Pianist Glenn Zaleski is bursting with excitement over the release of his first album as a leader—My Ideal. The record, featuring his trio with Craig Weinrib on drums and Dezron Douglas on bass will be released by Sunnyside Records on March 17th. This Friday, January 16th, Glenn will bring this trio to The Jazz Gallery for the first time (with Ben Street filling in for Mr. Douglas on bass). Glenn has previously performed at The Jazz Gallery with several different groups, including with collaborative the Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato Trio. Besides touring with this home base group, as well as the likes of Ravi Coltrane and Jamie Baum, Glenn has been working with JazzReach, a non-for profit organization that travels the country educating others about jazz. We caught up with Glenn by phone this week to find out about what he is looking forward to about his new trio and the new year.
The Jazz Gallery: What are some new pieces of musical knowledge or experiences from 2014 that you are taking with you into the new year?
Glenn Zaleski: I’ve recently realized that it’s amazing how little you really need to play. I’ve been noticing many instances when I didn’t feel like I was playing that much at all, and then I would listen back to the recording afterward and realize that I was actually terribly overplaying and the feeling of the music would be lost. And then when I simplified and played less, my playing sounded more full, infinitely clearer, and overall more effective. I’ve been amazed at just how little I need to play.
TJG: What inspired you to make music with this particular trio? Is there something in particular driving the set of music on the album?
GZ: This trio was originally put together for a concert in November 2013. A great venue in Old Lyme, Connecticut called The Side Door contacted me about doing a show on Thanksgiving weekend. It was relatively last minute, and I had to put a band together, and the trio that I normally play with (with Colin Stranahan and Rick Rosato) was unavailable. So this band came together for that occasion. I knew Craig from The New School where we had played many sessions together. I always loved playing with him, and I’ve played several different trio gigs with him in New York. I met Dezron recently, when we had played together with Ravi Coltrane’s quartet. I was looking for other opportunities to play with him, and I knew he was from Connecticut, so I thought this would be a convenient gig for him. So we played the gig and it was really great. Next year came around and I decided I wanted to do a recording, so that summer we went into the studio to record My Ideal.
The show this weekend is exciting as well because this will be our first gig as a group in New York City. The last time we played together was back in the studio, and this will be our first gig since CT and our first gig in NYC.
TJG: What do you like about playing with Craig and Dezron in a trio setting?
GZ: Something that Craig and Dezron have in common is they are both very in touch with fundamental jazz language, and the fundamentals of this music in the sense of being able to swing and being able to listen. They’re grounded in a sense, but not in a way that’s close-minded or stuck in the past. This would be my first record as a leader, and I wanted it to be mostly standards, but I didn’t want it to be stuck in the past. I wanted it to be fundamentally a swinging piano trio record but I didn’t want it to sound old fashioned. I think Craig and Dezron are both very in touch with that: they are able to play genuine jazz music with a genuine time feel that’s not kitschy or doing an impression of something old. It’s new, but in touch with the foundation of jazz music. That was a feel that I really wanted to establish with this trio.
TJG: How did you go about arranging the music for this band?
GZ: The record is mostly standards, and we did the recording session without a rehearsal. The tunes aren’t overly arranged. They’re all standards that I knew and felt a personal connection with. The arrangements are simple enough that I knew that these two guys could grasp them right off the bat, and I definitely had Craig and Dezron in mind when I was putting them together. Every arrangement has a hook or a catch that makes it fresh, but still allows us all to be spontaneous. I thought about tunes that were important to me, and I took those tunes and put them into a form that was easy enough to latch onto, but potent enough to give us something to play. Overall though, the focus is more about our playing and our improvising, and how we feel the time together.
TJG: Are you trying to incorporate aspects of the Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato trio into this group, or are you going for a completely different aesthetic and sound?
GZ: There are definitely some similarities between the trios, notably that both trios focus more on our improvising than on written material. The major difference in the trios has more to do with how the three of us feel the time together. For example, Colin and I tend to interact in a more explicit way, picking up on each other’s rhythmic ideas and bouncing them back and forth, where as Craig and I have more of an implicit interaction where he lays a foundation and I float on top of it. Also, Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato tends to focus on original music, but this trio will be playing mostly standards.
TJG: But there are a couple of non-standards (or perhaps future standards) on the record as well, yes?
GZ: Yeah—there are two originals written by two of my good friends: one of them is “REL,” by Peter Schlamb, and the other is “Waltz for MD,” by Rick Rosato. I’m fortunate that many of my favorite musicians and composers are my close friends, and the contemporary music that I feel most connected to is the music that my peers are writing now. I feel that these tunes by Peter and Rick are contemporary standards and fit perfectly with the rest of the more “classic” material on the record.
Also, I was very fortunate to have Ravi Coltrane as a guest artist on the album for one track. He has an arrangement of “I’m Old Fashioned” that I really love, and Dezron, Craig and I have all played it with Ravi’s band at one point. I thought that I wanted to include the arrangement on the record, and I even thought about just playing it with the trio, but then Ravi was able to join us. Needless to say, he sounds beautiful!
I’m very excited about this project, and can’t wait for people to hear the record. But in the meantime, I’m thrilled to be back at the Jazz Gallery presenting this project in NYC for the first time.
The Glenn Zaleski Trio, featuring Ben Street on bass and Craig Weinrib on drums, performs at The Jazz Gallery on Friday, January 16th. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. $22 general admission ($12 for members). Purchase tickets here.