A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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When asked in a recent interview what music meant to him, Clarence Penn replied, “I mean, music for me is existence. It’s life. It’s everything to me…All the good and the bad, like life.”

Penn, a native of Detroit, might best be known for his versatility and sensitivity as a drummer, having performed and recorded with a diverse range of artists in and around the jazz world: Betty Carter, Maria Schneider, Michael Brecker, Ellis and Wynton Marsalis, Luciana Souza, and many others. His latest recording as a leader, Dali in Cobble Hill (2012), features an all-star cast comprised of Chris Potter, Adam Rogers, and Ben Street, and he is planning to release a new album in the near future that will feature the music of Thelonious Monk.

Read more about Clarence Penn and his Monk project here.

Clarence Penn performs at The Jazz Gallery this Saturday, August 3rd, with Gregoire Maret (harmonica), Chad Lefkowitz-Brown (tenor saxophone), Gerald Clayton (piano), and Yasushi Nakamura (bass). Sets at 9 and 10:30 p.m., $20 general admission and FREE for Members and SummerPass holders. Purchase tickets here.

Photo by Mark Niskanen

We are pleased to announce that The Jazz Gallery has been featured in two videos from the Rockefeller Brothers FundArtists in Motion and A Pivotal Role: Arts in New York City!

Founded in 1940, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund operates on a mission to advance “social change that contributes to a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world.” The organization supports work in the areas of “Democratic Practice,” “Peacebuilding,” and “Sustainable Development,” and is active in three regions of the world: New York City, Western Balkans, and Southern China. The Jazz Gallery is supported by the Charles E. Culpeper Arts & Culture Grants, which are a part of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s New York City Pivotal Places initiative. The Culpeper grants “support the creative process, build the capacity of small and mid-size arts and cultural institutions, and support the pursuit of the creative life.”

The videos spotlight The Gallery and three other beneficiaries of Rockefeller Brothers Fund support – Creative Time, Gallim Dance, and the Spanish Theatre Repertory Company – all of whom are enabled by Culpeper Arts & Culture Grants.

Watch both videos, which feature the vocalist Claudia Acuña and The Jazz Gallery’s Executive Director Debbie Steinglass, here.

Photo by Mark Niskanen

Our Home Run Benefit (to be held on June 13th) has been featured in the ArtsBeat section of The New York Times! James C. McKinley, Jr. writes:

Ravi Coltrane, Roy Hargrove and Vijay Iyer are among the jazz players who will perform at a benefit concert on Wednesday for the Jazz Gallery, a small nonprofit performance space in SoHo that has played an influential role in developing New York’s jazz talent for the last 17 years.  The concert will be held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem at 6:30 p.m., and the tickets range in price from $45 to $250.  The Jazz Gallery has been housed in a 2,000-square-foot loft at 290 Hudson Street since its founding but will lose its lease at the end of the year because the building has been rezoned and is being converted into residential lofts, said the executive director, Deborah Steinglass. The organization has set out to raise $250,000 to pay for the move and retire its accumulated debt. A new space has yet to be found, and, to remain in Manhattan, the nonprofit’s rent costs — now running about $68,000 a year — are likely to rise significantly, putting pressure on the group’s $480,000 a year budget, Ms. Steinglass said.  The gallery’s mission is to nurture young jazz players, providing not only a performance space but residencies.  It has been an incubator for some of the best contemporary jazz players in the city, among them the drummer Dafnis Prieto, the saxophonist Miguel Zenón and the pianist Jason Moran.

Tickets are still available, including a limited number of premium seats, as well as $45 concert-only tickets for persons under 30. Don’t miss your chance to hear this all-star lineup performing in support of “an incubator for some of the best contemporary jazz players in the city”!

Reserve your tickets here.

Photo via

Listing Generations (Sunnyside) – the last album from the guitarist Miles Okazaki – among his top ten releases of 2009 in ArtForum, Vijay Iyer describes what he heard: “a recursively structured, fractally detailed labyrinth of music — the sonic equivalent of Escher or Borges, but with real emotional heft.”

Characterized as “an exceedingly skilled guitarist with a head for rhythmic convolution” by The New York Times, Miles was raised in Port Townsend, Washington. He holds degrees from Harvard, Manhattan School of Music, and Juilliard, and was the 2nd place finalist in the 2005 Thelonious Monk Guitar Competition. He has honed his skills in bands led by Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Barron, and Steve Coleman, among others.

Generations and Mirror, Miles’ self-released debut, are listed by the guitarist as predecessors to his forthcoming release, Figurations (Sunnyside):

FIGURATIONS (2012) is the third volume in the large compositional cycle that began with MIRROR (2006), and GENERATIONS (2009). A listener to all three albums may notice certain elements reappearing in different form. There is also a larger development in these three volumes, from a focus on extremely formal and controlled structures, moving gradually toward a looser conception of group interplay. This is meant to mirror the process that the improvising musician goes through, from concept to practice to spontaneity. MIRROR was recorded in small pieces and highly produced, GENERATIONS was recorded in the studio in a continuous take, and FIGURATIONS was recorded live with an audience. This can be seen to represent a gradual acceptance of the balance between control and natural forces. A good comparison might be a garden that is planted with strict rows and borders, and is left to grow on its own for a few years, at which time natural forms have sprouted up and entertwined with each other in a way that is seemingly chaotic, but governed by natural law, and built on the foundation of an underlying structure that has now all but disappeared. This idea of simplifying and letting go of control is manifest in a few ways on this record. The sheet music is minimal, only the seeds of ideas, which are then entrusted to the musicians to generate ideas and structures. The group is also minimal, a quartet, which allows for space and presents more detail about each performer. There is also the guitar, which uses no effects ar processing at all. With live recording there is no option to fix errors, so part of the process is learning to accept or even enjoy the missteps or digressions of a live performance that bring the music into unexpected territory.

The music on Figurations was commissioned by The Jazz Gallery during our 2011 Residency Commissions series, and the album was recorded live on our stage during the premiere concert. Miles and his quartet (featuring the bassist Thomas Morgan, the drummer Dan Weiss, and the saxophonist Mark Turner, who will sub for Miguel Zenón) will return to The Gallery to celebrate the release of the album this Saturday.

You can hear the title track from the album and view some of Miles’ accompanying artwork (we highly recommend checking out the rest here) below. In the liner notes, he offers the following commentary:

A cycle in golden proportions (89:55). The rhythmic figure is an hourglass shape, the harmony follows Fibonacci numbers, and the melody follows the composite of both of these cycles, in the form of canon in double counterpoint. The form of the cycle is like a type of blues (12×12), over which ornate figurations link together into a continuous woven texture.

Photo by Esther Cidoncha via

To call Steve Coleman “influential” is an understatement. Vijay Iyer, one of the many groundbreaking composer-performers who began their careers apprenticing with Steve, says, “To me, Steve’s as important as Coltrane. He has contributed an equal amount to the history of the music. He deserves to be placed in the pantheon of pioneering artists.”

But the scope of Steve’s influence isn’t limited to his collaborators. He’s been presenting weekly workshops at The Jazz Gallery almost every season since the fall of 2004, where anyone with a thirst for knowledge can go to absorb the infinitude he has to offer.

On March 8th, we’ll be bringing this series uptown in collaboration with our friends at Symphony Space. The Jazz Gallery Uptown: Steve Coleman Presents, A Musical Salon will expose a new neighborhood to Steve’s ideas and approaches. For those of you downtown, we’ll also begin the Spring season of “Steve Coleman Presents” at The Jazz Gallery next Monday.

Never been to one of Steve’s workshops? Michael J. West provides a great account in the 2010 issue of JazzTimes:

The audience at the Jazz Gallery is under Steve Coleman’s spell. The alto saxophonist, casually dressed in jeans and a backwards baseball cap, sits center stage at the scruffy upstairs club in New York’s SoHo district, leading two of his band members—pianist David Virelles and guitarist Miles Okazaki—through alien-sounding renditions of Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are.” The people in the club’s cramped chairs sit in rapt attention, following Coleman’s urgings to clap and sing along with the musicians. Then something unusual happens: Coleman calls one young spectator up to sit with Virelles at the piano, and encourages others to stand onstage behind him and watch.

This is Coleman’s gig, but it isn’t a concert. On a Monday night in March, he’s conducting his weekly master class and workshop, “Steve Coleman Presents,” for musicians of all instruments and skill levels. Coleman has spent the evening discussing negative chords, a system of his own design in which chords are built by stacking notes downward, not upward, from the root. He and his musicians first re-harmonize the changes on “All the Things You Are,” then reconstruct the tune itself using the same concept. “You’re gonna work out the bridge,” he tells the kid he’s brought onto the bandstand, and for the next hour they deconstruct the standard’s B-section note by note, looking to retain the compositional structure but turn it upside down as the remainder of the class—about 20 people, mostly young, some with instruments—looks on.

“What you’re really doing with this is to alter your perspective,” he explains as the kid picks away at the keys. “You’re just looking at the same thing from a different angle, holding up a magnifying glass to see why things work and why they don’t. And you don’t have to stop tonight; you can keep doing it, because it presents situations you’ve never been in before and possibilities you’ve never even thought of.”

[Continue reading here.]

We’d like to point out that Steve’s own website is an incredible resource, with several scores and essays – as well as almost two dozen albums – available for free download. The author also recommends this feature in The Wall Street Journal, as well as this extensive 2008 interview via Innerviews.