Saxophonist and composer Jarien Jamanila will be making his Jazz Gallery debut with a new quartet–pianist Sean Mason, bassist Felix Moseholm, and drummer Taurien Reddick–presenting Jamanila’s originals and a collection of standards. Jamanila is currently a student at The Juilliard School and formerly attended the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. In a recent phone conversation, Jamanila spoke slowly and carefully to reveal a deep confidence in his music and his bandmates.
The Jazz Gallery: Tell me a bit about your life at Juilliard right now.
Jarien Jamanila: The first two years were packed full, with many hours of class every day, but this year I have far fewer classes than last year. I have private lessons, rotations with the big band, small groups, composition and arranging, and music history from 1700-1850. There’s the “Creative Ideas” class, where our whole department meets and discusses music and different assigned readings together. I also have a Jazz Business class with a representative from Jazz at Lincoln Center, who gives us the ins and outs of what he’s learned at JALC and how it can help us.
TJG: That actually seems like a pretty heavy course load.
JJ: It’s less than before. I’m happy with what it is right now [laughs].
TJG: Are you glad about the teacher you have right now?
JJ: Yeah, my teacher is Dan Block. I’ve had him for two years: He’s just as curious as me, he still wants to learn and grow. He’s always bringing in something new, and will share it with me, give me some ideas, teach me new songs, get me to listen to recordings I haven’t heard yet.
TJG: So how long has your band been together?
JJ: My band hasn’t been together long, but we play together often, in different settings both in and outside of school. I don’t usually play with Sean on piano, but I wanted him to play with us on this gig.
TJG: How would you describe Sean’s playing?
JJ: Sean has his own trio and plays at Smalls about once a week. His band sounds like a band, they know his music, they play big, and his music sounds grand. He’s free when he improvises, and he’s captivating to listen to. That’s my opinion, but it’s also what I see when I look around the room and see how people are checking him out. Very melodic as well: He likes to improvise with the melody in mind. He’s true to the song, aware of the melody, and at the same time, he’s completely free.
TJG: How do you think he’ll fit in with you, Felix, and Taurien?
JJ: Sean is easy to work with. Felix and Taurien play together often, people hire them for their groups. They’ll play at Dizzy’s at the end of this month with another saxophonist. So they work together well. Adding a piano player, who’s also our friend, will be easy.
TJG: How’d you get together with Felix? Is he at Juilliard as well?
JJ: Yeah, we all go to the same school, so it was easy for me to look around and see who I’d like to bring some of my music to life.
TJG: Speaking of your music, talk a little about your own compositions.
JJ: I like to write melodies that I think will be memorable, and I like to write in a swing style. When I hear Charlie Parker, Johnny Hodges, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, I’d like to have my own voice in that style of writing. I try to write more, but I like to write when it comes naturally. I prefer when melodies or chord changes come to me without there being an assignment at school: I like to write with honesty. That’s not to say you can’t do that with school, but I find that I can’t force myself to be inspired if I’m told to write, because I like to write when it’s best for me. People say my style is a bit different, my melodies can be quirky. My friends would say that it’s genuine, it’s not unlike me to write in that way.
TJG: And how do you pick standards for a gig like this?
JJ: It depends on how I’m feeling in the days before. Maybe I’ll be listening to something that I’ve been enjoying, or maybe I heard something the day before. I have an idea of what I’d like to play in terms of standards, but there’s a lot of stuff to choose from. I might even just call something on the spot if I’m feeling different in the moment. Sean, Felix, Taurien, they know a lot of songs, so we might do something without notice.
TJG: Looking forward to the show?
JJ: I’ve never brought a band to The Jazz Gallery, and I can’t wait to share my compositions. I think people will think they’re fun to listen to, and I think it’ll be a good experience to lead a show at the Gallery. I’m excited.
The Jarien Jamanila Quartet plays The Jazz Gallery on Wednesday, September 18, 2019. The group features Mr. Jamanila on saxophone, Sean Mason on piano, Felix Moseholm on bass, and Taurien Reddick on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $15 general admission (FREE for members), $20 reserved table seating ($10 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.