A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo courtesy of the artist.

These days, bassist/composer Alexis Cuadrado leads perhaps more of a local life than many of his constantly touring jazz compatriots. Much of his writing, producing, and recording happens at home, and live performance is not as central to his practice. And yet, the Covid-19 pandemic has deeply altered many aspects of his creative routine and educational work. There has been so much new terrain to explore, navigating quarantine and caring for his family while picking up the creative pieces. We spoke in depth via phone about his relationship with The Jazz Gallery over the years, as well as ways in which he and his family are dealing with this period of self-isolation.

**A note on the interview, which occurred on March 25. Since that interview, Cuadrado has been doing more producing, writing, and creating tracks for The New Yorker. In addition, “Teaching has been healing,” says Cuadrado, who is currently educating remotely at The New School.**

The Jazz Gallery: Hey Alexis. How are you?

Alexis Cuadrado: I’m okay, I’m okay. I’m in Brooklyn with my family.

TJG: Tell me about your situation.

AC: We’ve been together in the house for about two weeks now. We self-confined early and before everyone else, mostly because my family is in Barcelona, and they are about a week ahead of us with the pandemic. It seemed, at that point, that this wasn’t going to be good, so we immediately wanted to try to minimize the risk of either getting or spreading it. It’s been two weeks of home living for the four of us here, which honestly has been a big adjustment, as it has been for everyone else.

TJG: Everyone has a different situation right now. How are things with your family, dealing with new things like homeschooling, on top of your career stuff–

AC: What career stuff?! [laughs]… Right now, there’s no career stuff. I’m in this loop where work usually comes in and out pretty quickly, because for the last few years I’ve been doing a lot of production work. That loop has slowed down. I just finished a large film score, a commission that I was able to finish in a couple of months. So I’m not in the middle of a project, but right now, the possibility of a new project, production work, gigs, or scoring work is totally gone. Generally, when I’m between projects, I have a slow month, which this has been. I clean my hard drives, do my taxes, empty out a closet, get my chops better, compose something. On paper, I do have a few hours a day for myself, but mentally… Yesterday I was talking to my wife, and told her, “I’m trying to push myself to be creative right now, but I just can’t be. I have to be okay with that right now.” Eventually, I think this energy will channel into something creative, but right now, I’m trying to make sure my kids are okay.

My wife is a radio producer who works for The New Yorker Radio Hour, and her co-producer seems to have pretty intense Covid-19 symptoms, so my wife is literally running the show herself, from home. I am also getting my stuff together to teach remotely, starting next week. I mostly teach music technology, but my students don’t have the software… We’re trying to get the companies to get the software to the students. Right now, it feels like we’re all just getting it together. I do have a lot to do with my career and my creative endeavors, with music business, but it’s all stalled right now, and I’m okay with it. Making it to the end of the day, being okay, that’s good enough right now.

TJG: On top of everything, how has your home life changed, with everyone being home 24-7?

AC: We have two bedrooms and four people. It’s not great. We try to get out. The first thing the four of us do every day is go on a jog. We live right by Prospect Park, and at the bottom of the park is the Parade Ground, ballfields and soccer fields. We run for twenty minutes there, the four of us. We play tag: We’ve made up a tag game called Corona. If you’re ‘it,’ you’re the coronavirus, and try to infect the other people [laughs].

TJG: Oh my gosh [laughs]. That’s hilarious.

AC: Yeah, and then the next person comes to save you as the respirator [laughs].

TJG: How old are your kids?

AC: Eleven, they’re twins. Anyway, we’re trying to make the best of it. Cooking a lot, making healthy food, doing online yoga classes, trying to keep it all together, mentally.

TJG: Are you doing homeschooling stuff or anything like that?

AC: Yes, and luckily we have a remote schooling setup. They have their own little Chromebook and we just help them when it’s time to log in. They seem to be doing fine. They’re chatting with friends, having Zoom parties, talking about Dungeons and Dragons and all the wonderful things I don’t understand… They are adjusting really well, and we’re trying to keep it all together for them. Two weeks ago, this seemed impossible. Now we’re in it, and I think we’re in it for the long run.

TJG: You feel like your setup is good, sustainable at least for the time being?

AC: Physically? Financially? I think so. I, for once, am lucky to not be depending on gigs right now. Gigs are just part of my income, and not a substantial part, maybe 20%. Right now, I’ve probably lost about 40% of my income. But it’s ok, we can survive. I feel lucky, privileged at my situation. I’ve been producing songs with an amazing flamenco artist for the last year, we’ve done some sessions and it’s been a slow process. I’ve been trying to do some edits, mix a little bit, but I stopped because I felt like in this mental space, I would make bad choices right now. I don’t think my head is in the right space to be creative, to give my hundred percent to his music right now. So I don’t have any creative expectations right now, and that’s okay.

TJG: Speaking of being creative, part of this interview is not just to get a virus update, but to celebrate the upcoming Jazz Gallery 25th Anniversary. Do you have any projects coming up at the Gallery, either that were postponed or are scheduled for down the line?

AC: Not really. Rio and I have been talking about a project for a few months, and it hasn’t really materialized. But I always end up playing a weekend once a year, or something like that.

TJG: You’ve been playing there for many years, right?

AC: Yeah, I think the first time I played at the Gallery was something like 2003, at the old Gallery space. Seventeen years ago…

TJG: Take me back to the first time you were at the Gallery. What was it like? Who was with you? Tell me all about it.

AC: I can’t remember the first time I went to the Gallery. I may have seen Yosvany Terry, Dafnis Prieto, Roy Hargrove, someone like that. But I can’t remember. The first time I played as a leader there must have been 2004. I presented an album there, my second album. I was still fairly new to New York, and it was, at that point, a very New York place, with an art gallery, a loft downtown. Not a very fancy place at all, but it had such a vibe, such a special thing to it. There was Dale Fitzgerald, with that voice, saying “Good evening, welcome to The Jazz Gallery,” you know, the hang was just amazing. It took me a while to feel like it was part of my group of places where I would go and feel like I was home. I was kind of shy. But I’ve never, not once, across over a hundred shows I’ve probably seen at The Jazz Gallery, I’ve never seen bad music at the Gallery. It’s always been something that, for one reason or another, was interesting, cool, exciting, new, vibrant. That’s why it’s awesome.

TJG: What was the last memorable show you saw?

AC: I believe it was the Bohemian Trio, a few months ago, as well as the Christmas party, and I think Kush Abadey and his band was playing. Shows I remember… Definitely Pedro Giraudo’s group and big band. Remy Le Boeuf’s big band was great, I saw that recently. I haven’t gone as much as I’d like recently–I wanted to see the Tyshawn Sorey shows, and I couldn’t make it, I was bummed. Every project I’ve written in the last ten, fifteen years, I’ve ended up presenting it there sooner or later. It really feels like home for my music, and I have amazing memories of each show.

TJG: It’s hard to imagine now, but I’m sure within the next year or two you’ll be presenting another project there.

AC: Yeah! I’m actually turning 50 soon, and am thinking about trying to do something at The Gallery then. Obviously, now is not the time, but soon. Last week, I had a listening party online. Anyone who wanted to join could join. We did a listening party, and everyone brought whatever music they had. We would just listen and talk. That was the first week of Covid-19. I felt like, “Okay, that was my therapy. Time to get to business.” I may do another one soon, but I have no rules for anything right now. If I feel like doing another, I’ll do it.

I’m also trying to give myself a break, cut myself some slack. Trying to be really self-demanding right now is not going to work. I saw a cartoon recently: In one column, it said “Coronavirus without kids: Learn a language, practice your instrument, cook delicious meals, talk to your friends on Zoom…” In the other column, it said “Coronavirus with kids: Try to pee with the door closed at least once a day” [laughs]. That kind of sums it up.

TJG: Well, thank you for taking a few precious minutes to talk!

AC: No problem. You know, the day is long, we’re here, we’re not doing much. But just trying to get through the day, finding the mental space, that’s the difficult thing. I have my music room, and normally I can say “It’s time to practice, to write, to record,” and I can close the door and get in the zone. That hasn’t been happening. But it’s okay. It’ll be there.