As a saxophonist and composer, Tivon Pennicott has one foot on the dance floor and the other stepping into the beyond. Across his two albums Lover of Nature and Spirit Garden, Pennicott has drawn from his Jamaican heritage, Pentecostal upbringing, and love of film music. Pennicott furthers his expansive musical vision in From Roots to Branches, his new Jazz Gallery Residency Commission. Joined by bassist Louis Cato and drummer Joe Saylor, Pennicott will premiere the work at the Gallery this Friday and Saturday, July 23 and 24. We caught up with Pennicott to talk about the sources of his musical searching, and the commission’s new experiments.
The Jazz Gallery: Out of curiosity, what were you just doing in France?
Tivon Pennicott: That was just a gig with Gregory Porter. It was our first time back at a festival. It was just a three-day trip and now I’m back in New York.
TJG: What was that like returning to Europe after the pandemic and all that time?
TP: It was surreal.The band has been together so much for the past four or five years. We had to just abruptly take a break and now, a year and a half later, we met up again. It felt like we picked up where we left off, just as far as the camaraderie, the music, the jokes, and the fellowship goes. The big difference of course is that everyone’s wearing masks inside and the audience cannot enter after the show. I’m so used to greeting fans and just talking to them and getting to know them a little bit, so that kind of sucked.
TJG: Both of your albums, Lover of Nature and Spirit Garden are clearly focused on these broad themes of nature. Could you talk more about your connection to nature and the thematic inspirations for those two albums?
TP: My name, Tivon, is actually a Hebrew name that means “lover of nature. “ I felt like my parents did a pretty good job naming me because I was always outside. I was always in the moment as a child. I was always following my nature and the nature of who I am. I am blessed to have parents who put up with me and let me be free, as a child. So, I think my name suits me and that carries over to my creativity and my music. I especially felt that the first album, Lover of Nature, was a good opportunity to showcase some of the moments in my life that I wanted to amplify.
Naturally, the second album digs a little deeper into what “Lover of Nature” means and is more specific on how I live my life, as far as wellness is concerned, and how taking care of your physical body relates to you know your friends and family. It is all one, as far as nature is concerned.
TJG: You’ve said elsewhere that your first album was inspired by the time you had spent in New York. How do you feel your art has been inspired by earlier phases of your life, such as your time growing up in your hometown of Marietta, Georgia?
TP: I am very inspired by my Jamaican heritage. I grew up in Georgia, but my household was very Jamaican. On top of that, my parents are strong Christians. My parents related to the hymns at church, that is what drew them there. I’m Black, but no Black churches were really singing those hymns that they heard in Jamaica, so they were drawn towards a white southern Pentecostal church. So I have this interesting mixture of Jamaican heritage, with southern white gospel in my head and in my ears. I think that was a big influence on how I move musically and creatively. Of course, I was also in Atlanta Georgia, so I got the American Black culture as well.