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L to R: Connor Parks, Hannah Marks, and Alfredo Colon. Photo courtesy of the artists.

“Making it” is an infamously elusive challenge of life in New York. What does it require to hit the ground running? Connections can help. A supportive community is invaluable. But most foundational, perhaps, is a sense of belonging. 

Hannah Marks decided to make New York her new home in fall of 2019, arriving with clarity and purpose. She was coming off the heels of Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead at the Kennedy Center. She arrived in New York with some momentum, and found herself on a path with early performance opportunities and recognition from mentors. Months in, Marks was playing regularly, booking tours, and going to sessions. April 1, 2020 was slated to be her debut show as a bandleader at The Jazz Gallery. 

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything stopped. Many left New York, never to return, but Marks couldn’t stay away, and ended up finding creative ways to beat the gloom. One outcome was the creation of a new band, Tide Pools, with Jazz Gallery regulars Alfredo Colon (alto saxophone) and Connor Parks (drums). Tide Pools will be performing at the Gallery this Friday, June 4, marking the end of a fourteen month delay of Marks’ leadership debut. We spoke about it all in a recent phone interview.

The Jazz Gallery: You mentioned that you’re in Washington Heights now. Have you been in New York for the whole pandemic?

Hannah Marks: Almost. I left for the worst of it. I went back to Des Moines, Iowa, my hometown, from March to early May. I’ve been in New York since then. Even though things weren’t necessarily happening, I wanted to be around for any potential work. I’m glad I came back when I did. 

TJG: I’m looking at today’s date and am realizing that we met almost exactly two years ago at Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead. 

HM: I can’t believe it’s been two years. It feels as though we skipped a year.

TJG: How did you feel coming out of that program? Where did it leave you? 

HM: It was pivotal, in that when I came to the program, I did not think I was going to move to New York. I thought I was going to move to Chicago. But I came into the program with an open mind. I wanted my mind to be changed. By the end of the two weeks, I had talked to a lot of people, and several were about to move to New York or were living there now. I thought, “I’ll have some good connections if I take that jump now.” Dee Dee Bridgewater and Jason Moran both told me, “If you don’t do it now… you’ll never be ‘ready,’ so just make the jump.”

TJG: Had you been talking to them, saying you didn’t think you were ready yet?

HM: Yeah, and the idea I had in my head about New York was that I figured I was going to be eaten alive here. That has not been the case. Everyone has been super supportive. I think it’s a sink-or-swim situation, but I got here and felt “I have no choice but to swim.” It’s hard to arrive in the city completely ready playing-wise, but if you just force yourself to jump into the current–continuing with the metaphor–then you’re in the flow of the city.

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Photo by Zachary Maxwell Stertz via http://chrisdingman.com

Members of The Jazz Gallery community have recently been grieving the loss of Roy Hargrove, and grief, like so many facets of our musical lives, looks and sounds different for every person. Vibraphonist and composer Chris Dingman has also been contending with his own grief, in his own way. In the months before and since his father’s recent passing, vibraphonist and composer Chris Dingman developed a collection of improvised solo vibraphone pieces. The improvised music was meant to bring a meaningful experience to his father, who was in hospice at the time, and was also a means for Dingman to contend with his own grief. Today, using music in this way, in Dingman’s own words, makes “the purpose of it all seems stronger.”

This performance at the Gallery will represent Dingman’s first full-length solo vibraphone concert. Dingman is a regular on The Jazz Gallery stage, regularly performing with his own ensembles or in collaboration with Ambrose Akinmusire, Steve Lehman, Jen Shyu, Tyshawn Sorey, Ingrid Jensen, Fabian Almazan, and others. His most recent album, The Subliminal and the Sublime (2015) is a 62-minute continuous work blending layers of jazz, ambient electronica, and minimalism.

This week, Dingman is returning to New York from a tour with bassist Ike Sturm. When we spoke briefly on the phone, Dingman was somewhere in Ohio, en route back to the city. In our short conversation, Dingman discussed the backstory of this upcoming solo concert, and the circumstances that lead him to do take this leap into the unknown at The Jazz Gallery.

The Jazz Gallery: Could tell me a bit about the context of your upcoming solo vibraphone show?

Chris Dingman: The primary influence in my decision to do the show was that, beginning late last spring and continuing through today, I recorded a bunch of solo improvisations. I actually recorded them for my dad, who at the time was in hospice care, and who passed away over the summer. I recorded all of the music for him, and we worked together on making it into a project that could be shared with the rest of the world. It was an intense time. I’m currently working on the production and mixing, which has been a long process, as I recorded around six hours of music. As I’ve been working, I’ve had a lot of time to consider what brings me to play solo vibes, and what playing vibes in general is about for me. When Rio approached me about doing something at the Gallery that would reflect where I am right now, I felt that doing a solo vibes show would be the best outlet to express where I’m coming from.

Simultaneously, I’ve still been playing with other people. I recently did this tour with Ike Sturm, which was great in terms of being an outlet for focusing on the kind of solo playing that I do. The instrumentation was bass, vibraphone, saxophone, and voice, so there’s a lot of space to play. Prior to that, I did an improv set at The Stone in October with Okkyung Lee and Sara Serpa. We improvised and had such a good time doing that. I love Okkyung and everything she does, she’s so inspiring to me, and is definitely another reason I’m drawn to playing solo.

TJG: You said you were working with your dad to get the music to where it could be “shared with the rest of the world.” What did the process look like?

CD: I performed and recorded all of the music for him at my parents’ house. I played and recorded it there so that he could listen to it. I did have a feeling that it was music that I would want to share with others, but at the time, it was really just for him. It was recorded in a basement, with no engineer, no studio. Because it’s such a large amount of music, I decided to mix it myself. Together with my dad, we named all the tracks together, because they were all improvisations. He named many of the tracks, and for others, we figured out together what they should be called.

It didn’t start out as an album or a bigger project, but everything you do to produce an album, we began to discuss together. We started talking about what it should be called, and who the music is for. In the past, my projects have been for everybody: I just make the music, and don’t really think about who or what the music is for. But in this case, the music was for him, and he wanted to share it with others who were experiencing what he was going through: The process of dying. So, this music is for people in hospice, people going through that transition. As I’ve played the music for others, people have thought of other contexts where it would be great, which I’m not opposed to either.

TJG: My instinct is to ask if you would consider playing this music for others who are in hospice, but that seems like it would be so difficult.

CD: That’s something I’d definitely consider. Going forward, once this project gets released, I will be doing exactly that, playing in person for people who are in hospice. It’s hard, but it’s really meaningful work. It’s so helpful to those who are going through that.

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Clockwise from top left: Keyon Harrold, Immanuel Wilkins, Gilad Hekselman, Sullivan Fortner, Burniss Earl Travis, and Eric Harland. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Sunday, August 19, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to present the debut of the brand new ReWORKS Project. The brainchild of award-winning producer Matt Pierson (who’s produced records Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, and Jane Monheit to name a few), the ReWORKS project features a cadre of long-time Gallery players putting their distinctive spin on contemporary pop music, from Drake to Kendrick Lamar to The Weeknd.

The ReWORKS project is no superficial crossover album. All of the players—trumpeter Keyon Harrold, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Burniss Earl Travis, and drummer Eric Harland—are deeply engaged in contemporary pop and hip-hop practices and are ideal improvisers to explore the points of contact between these songs and the jazz tradition. After the one-night-only performance at the Gallery, the sextet will head to the studio to cut a record for Sony Masterworks. Don’t miss your chance to see this jazz supergroup explore new repertoire in real time. (more…)

Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Sunday, May 20, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to present a concert from the Blueprints Piano Series. Curated by pianists Erika Dohi and Daniel Anastasio, the series brings together pianists from diverse backgrounds, putting classical, jazz, and contemporary concert music in dialogue.

This concert at The Jazz Gallery is entitled Ships of Theseus, and focuses on the art of transformation through transcription and improvisation. On the classical side, the program features Franz Liszt’s piano transcription of Schubert’s lied Gretchen am Spinnrade. Jazz pianist John Stetch will put his own spin on transcriptions of Mozart and Chopin. Fabian Almazan will offer an improvisation of his own, and Kris Davis will premiere her work, Abyss, commissioned by Blueprints and inspired by Cecil Taylor.

Before coming to the Gallery on Sunday, check out Glenn Zaleski’s improvisation from Blueprint’s Ephemera concert, last April.

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Photo by Jimmy Katz, courtesy of the artist.

Eric Alexander has been one of the busiest bebop and post-bop saxophonists of the past four decades. He has released nearly forty albums as a leader and performed on countless other records as a sideman. His raspy yet wide tone is immediately recognizable, as are his focused, cascading melodic lines. Alexander most often appears alongside pianist Harold Mabern, either in Mabern’s band or his own. The two have been working together since Alexander’s days in the jazz department at William Patterson University.

Nearly all saxophonists spend years learning the language of the great swing and bebop masters. That experience is relegated to the years of jazz education for many young musicians, but Alexander has made a point to keep that sound alive and well in his own playing. As an educator and composer, he has remarkable knowledge of the blues vocabulary of giants from Coltrane and Parker to Stitt and Mobley, and has held the sounds of masters close as his own playing has evolved. Says Alexander, “The legacy left by Bird and all the bebop pioneers, that language and that feel—that’s the bread and butter of everything I do.”

While Alexander has performed on what seems like every jazz stage in New York, this performance marks his first appearance at The Jazz Gallery as a leader. For this upcoming show at the Gallery, Alexander will deviate from his usual quartet configuration, and will present two sets of standards and originals alongside bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Johnathan Blake. (more…)