“The thing that happens to me most, actually, is [that] fragments or pieces or repeating pieces of music are ringing in my head as I’m dreaming, and often during the waking hours,” explains the vibraphonist Chris Dingman during an interview with NPR. “And on occasion, I have woken up with these fragments in my head and written them down.”
On Saturday, Chris returns to our stage with a quintet featuring the reedist Loren Stillman, the pianist Gerald Clayton, the bassist Drew Gress, and the drummer Justin Brown. Update: this performance has been selected as a Critics’ Pick by The New York Times, Time Out New York, and The Village Voice.
Chris was gracious enough to answer our questions about the concept behind the ensemble and the music, and about his history with his bandmates and The Gallery. Without further ado, Chris Dingman speaks:
Please tell us about your history with the members of the quintet that you are bringing to The Gallery on Saturday. When did you meet them? What drove you to select each of them for this configuration?
First of all, I’m very excited about playing with this particular combination of musicians. In addition to being extremely skilled at their craft, all four of these musicians are kind, humble, and giving people.
This configuration is something of an experiment. Some of these guys have never or rarely ever played together, and are known for playing in fairly different circles from each other. However, they all certainly share a lot of common ground. In particular, Drew Gress has never or almost never played with Justin Brown and Gerald Clayton, although I know they share a mutual admiration for one another. So I’m excited to see how this turns out. It’s unpredictable, but in a very good way – one of the qualities that excites me the most about playing this music.
Of the musicians playing, I’ve known Drew Gress the longest – we began playing together in Steve Lehman’s ensembles in 2002. One of the first gigs I ever played in NYC was with Drew, and we’ve since toured a bunch together with Steve’s excellent octet.
I met both Justin Brown and Gerald Clayton on the same night, May 12, 2005, which I remember because it was bassist Joe Sanders‘ birthday and we all celebrated together. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of playing with Justin since 2007, when we recorded Ambrose Akinmusire‘s first album together, and Justin has played in groups of mine since 2009, including playing on my album, Waking Dreams.
Similarly, I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to play with Gerald many times over the years – in his quintet a few times (including a weekend at The Gallery last year), and in a memorable duo gig at the Undead Jazz Festival. More recently, I’ve had Gerald play in my own group, whenever he is in town and available – a special occasion for sure.
Last but certainly not least, I met Loren Stillman back in 2004 when I saw him play with drummer Tyshawn Sorey‘s band, and he was playing this extremely difficult music with lightness and ease. I didn’t meet him again until 2008, when we started playing together in the bassist Keith Witty‘s quintet. We kept ending up in bands together, and it just seemed right that we collaborate. He has been playing regularly in my group since March 2010.
Tell about the music you will be performing with this group. What can our audience expect to hear?
There will be several compositions from my debut album, Waking Dreams (which you can hear at http://www.chrisdingman.bandcamp.com), as well as a few newer compositions that are fairly similar in style to the music on the album, but have a different kind of edge to them. We’re still exploring how this new music can be played, so it could go in a few different directions. I’m really excited to experience what these musicians will bring to it. The music is fairly open to interpretation, so it always sounds a bit different, even with the same musicians playing, but this performance will be especially interesting.
Please say a few words about your history with The Gallery (as a listener/audience member, performer, etc).
I’ve been attending shows at The Gallery since I first moved to the NYC area in 2002, and I have always been struck by the sense of community, the dedication to the music, and the atmosphere of both congeniality and rigor that makes each performance special, both as an audience member and as a performer. My first gig at The Gallery was in 2004 with the Steve Lehman Quintet, for the CD release of Artificial Light. Since then, I’m happy to say I’ve played there both as a sideman and as a leader with many of my favorite musicians. Some of the gigs that come to mind include groups led by Ambrose Akinmusuire, Jake Saslow, Keith Witty, Jen Shyu, Gerald Clayton, and Sam Harris.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It means a lot to me to share an evening of music with a new group of people. The audience plays such an important role in the shape the music takes. I hope to see some new faces as well as some old friends on Saturday, and I’m excited to see what will happen when we all come together.
Want to learn more about Chris? You can find a detailed biography here. Alternately, go ahead and reserve your tickets, and let the music speak for itself.