Raised in New Orleans, pianist Nick Sanders has been working hard to cultivate a musical identity in New York since moving to the city in 2012, following his graduation from The New England Conservatory. Nick’s primary focus has been producing original music with his trio, which is made up of Henry Fraser on bass and Connor Baker on drums. Under the auspices of mentor Fred Hersch, Sanders released his debut album, Nameless Neighbors (Sunnyside), in 2012 and will look to Hersch again for his sophomore outing. This Thursday, May 29th, 2014, Nick, Henry, and Connor will return to our stage with an arsenal of new music. We spoke with Nick this month by phone to learn more about what he’s been up to and what he has prepared for the show:
TJG: You just played The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival with the trio on May 3rd, 2014. Could you tell us a bit about that experience?
Nick Sanders: It was awesome! I had actually played there before in high school with the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Although I have a very strong classical background and didn’t get into jazz until my later teens, I had attended the festival a couple of times and always enjoyed going because of the musical variety and awesome food they serve. I was just so thrilled to be able to play there at the WWOZ jazz tent. We played a bunch of new music and people were really receptive to it; we received a lot of compliments after the show. I was also really happy because, aside from Al Jarreau, our trio was the only other artist reviewed in the paper that day, and the review was great. The other interesting point about the festival is that they book a lot of different types of acts—non-jazz artists like Bruce Springsteen or Christina Aguilera. As there are fewer jazz acts selected, I feel grateful to have been chosen to play. It was a great opportunity to test out some of the new material that we’re planning for a new record. This record will be our focus over the next few months. Sunnyside Records is going to put it out and Fred Hersch will produce it; we’re super excited!
TJG: What can you share about the new record?
NS: We’re going to record in August. I’m still kind of getting all of the tunes and the album art figured out. We’re really excited, as we feel it’s a great evolution from the last record. The style of the record won’t diverge too much from the last, but I think that our playing has evolved a lot. We’re thinking of doing some interesting covers, likely a tune by Anthony Braxton; I’ve been getting into his music a lot recently. We played one of his tunes at Jazz Fest and it went over well. But, for the most part, the record will be all new music. We’ll just have to wait and see how everything turns out. I feel very fortunate to have Fred Hersch working with us again.
TJG: Having grown up in New Orleans and now having resided in New York, are there any key differences between these two jazz communities? How do you think these qualities shaped your approach in your work?
NS: Growing up in New Orleans certainly afforded me some great opportunities: I actually got to play with Alvin Batiste and Wessell Anderson at Snug Harbor. I’m very happy to have done that—particularly as Alvin has now passed away. As far as the differences are concerned, New Orleans definitely has a progressive music scene, but it’s obviously overshadowed by the traditional jazz culture: New Orleans has to support its tourist economy, which was built around a certain brand of New Orleans jazz. While I love that traditional style, I come from a strong classical background. Classical has had such an impact on my playing that I need to be immersed in a diverse music scene, which I think New York City offers just by the very nature of its size. There are many more musicians and venues that cater to progressive music here.
TJG: You’ve been working in a duo setting recently with Logan Strosahl, making an effort to release video content. How does this work differ from your trio setting? Have you been influenced by any duo playing in particular?
NS: Logan and I have recorded at least two or three times, but the material we find ourselves playing seems to keep changing, so we’re not quite ready to do a record. We’re making this YouTube channel with the goal being to play short, two or three minute tunes. In the future we’d like put out a record, but for the short term it’s just videos. I haven’t listened to many duo recordings, but there is one that I was really into when I was younger: People Time, by Stan Getz and Kenny Barron. I loved that record!
I’ve known Logan since I was 18 years old, and we’ve played so much since then that we’ve kind of developed our own thing. We are our own influences, so to speak. The approach in the duo setting is completely different. When I’m playing duo, I am responsible for so much more. Logan is just as responsible for keeping time as I am, but I have to be in command of all of the bass notes, harmony and rhythmic feel. In the trio, I have a drummer and bass player—that alone is the key difference. Logan and I have mostly been playing standards in our duo whereas the focus of the trio is original music. Harmonic structures in the trio setting are much more open.
TJG: You recently played at the Fairfield University Bill Evans Tribute. Was Evans a specific influence to your playing?
NS: Definitely. Growing up, Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans were two of my biggest influences. Getting to do that show was a huge honor for me. Bill Zavatsky, a poet who did Bill Evans’s eulogy, was at the event and read some cool poetry. Bill Evans definitely influenced my solo piano playing with respect to standards—in particular, some of his voicings and phrasing. Also, I paid attention to the sound production of the piano and the tone he gets on ballads. He was another pianist who was heavily influenced by classical music, which I relate to.
TJG: Since Henry and Connor just graduated, is everyone bound for the city?
NS: Yes. Henry will actually be moving in with me this July; Connor will be moving as well in September. We also have a lot of other mutual friends who are great musicians. More and more people within our circle of friends are moving to NYC, so we can further cultivate our musical relationships.
TJG: Could you name some experiences you’ve had in the city thus far that can only be unique to New York City?
NS: Just being in the city, you see and meet so many different types of people; the diversity is insane. Almost every time I take the subway, I see strange things going down, but, of course, that’s awesome because it makes life interesting! It’s really inspiring to be amongst so many types of people and culture. There was one instance where I was rehearsing with my band in my apartment and the neighbor above us was getting angry because of the noise.
Unfortunately for her, I was permitted to play past a certain hour, so there was nothing she could do. Despite these circumstances, she made an ordeal out of it and called the police. When the police arrived, we actually invited them in and thought to ourselves, “Let’s play for them!” We ended up playing a ballad for them: “Don’t Blame Me.” It was so funny. The police loved my performance and expressed interest in making it out to a show. That was probably one of the more memorable experiences.
TJG: How have you been spending your time these days? Anything you’ve been checking out recently?
NS: I’ve been playing a lot of chess recently: that’s always a great pastime for me. I’ve played a bit around Union Square and Washington Square Park. I read a lot. Right now, I’m reading The World According to Garp, by John Irving. Musically, I’ve been listening to Guillaume de Machaut, an older 14th century French composer. I find his choral music to be really beautiful. I’m also really into Aphex Twin; I think of them as intelligent dance music. On the whole, I’m mostly working on music and finding time for friends.
TJG: What kind of material can we expect for the show?
NS: Mostly new music: some tunes from the upcoming record, some tunes we did at Jazz Fest, some tunes I’ve written since then. We might play some songs from the first record as well. We’re really looking forward to it! I’m really grateful to The Jazz Gallery for having faith in my music. I really support all that The Jazz Gallery does to give due artists opportunities to play and get their names out there. I consider The Jazz Gallery to be one of the best venues in the city.
Nick Sanders Trio will perform at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, May 29th, 2014. This performance features Nick Sanders on piano, Henry Fraser on bass, and Connor Baker on drums. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m. First set is $15 general admission and $10 for Members. Second set is $10 general admission and $5 for Members. Purchase tickets here.