Some musicians say jazz is like a conversation: you have to interpret the phrases and sentences that everyone is playing to respond appropriately. Others, like Wynton Marsalis, say jazz is like a democratic society: individuals work together to make a group that’s better than the sum of its parts. And yet still others say jazz is like a game of chess. As saxophonist Andrew Bishop writes:
Both are sophisticated constructs that require invention and reinvention to play with a fresh voice and approach. Both demand constant study, practice and imagination. Even a novel opening move compels in-the-moment flexibility to navigate through unexpected turns. Great players develop a style that becomes a their [sic] trademark move, gesture or phrase.
Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson would likely agree with Bishop’s analogy. An avid chess player, Finlayson’s main project as a leader is a band he calls “Sicilian Defense,” the name of a common chess opening famously favored by both Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov. Like a match between two grandmasters, Finlayson’s music for Sicilian Defense can be a bit heady. Multiple melodies weave themselves together, tempos shift in unexpected places, textures ebb and flow by their own logic. Yet the music is also completely riveting, as Finlayson and his bandmates leave just enough snatches of tunefulness and groove for listeners to hang onto as they swing through unexplored musical landscapes.
On Friday, April 4th, Finlayson will celebrate his birthday at The Jazz Gallery with a performance by Sicilian Defense. He will be joined by guitarist (and fellow chess enthusiast) Miles Okazaki, pianist David Virelles, bassist Keith Witty, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Come out and hear these young masters go toe-to-toe on the musical chess sets Finlayson has devised.
Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense performs at The Jazz Gallery on Friday, April 4th, 2014. The band features Finlayson on trumpet, Miles Okazaki on guitar, David Virelles on piano, Keith Witty on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m., $22 general admission ($10 for Members). Purchase tickets here.