Since moving to New York over three decades ago, guitarist David Gilmore has traversed a huge range of the city’s music scenes. He’s been active member of M-Base and the plugged-in collective Lost Tribe. He’s been a sideman with the likes of Wayne Shorter and Ronald Shannon Jackson. And he’s been an in-demand session musician, recording with Elton John, Cassandra Wilson, and Joss Stone, among others. This Friday at the Gallery, Gilmore will present music from his most recent solo record Transitions (CrissCross) with the original quintet. The record features a few Gilmore originals, as well as several tributes to recently-deceased jazz legends. We caught up with Gilmore to talk about his band, influences, and musical direction; excerpts from that conversation are below.
The Jazz Gallery: You’re performing with your quintet. How did you guys form?
David Gilmore: This quintet came about as a result of a record I did last September for Criss Cross records. They approached me to record something, and I had not had this thing in mind until approached by them. I thought of having a tribute to some recently deceased jazz ambassadors, like Toots Thieleman, we do a version of “Bluesette” by him; also Victor Bailey, a bass player who recently passed away—we did one of his songs. Bobby Hutcherson also passed away last year, so we played two of his songs, and Paul Bley, not a song of his but one he recorded by Annette Peacock, a tune that sort of encapsulates what he was all about in my opinion. I then wrote two originals, and we did another by Hermeto Pascoal, a tune called “Nem Un Talvez.” It’s sort of a mixture, but it’s mostly paying homage to a few of the recently deceased jazz greats, and so together these jazz guys I’ve worked with in various situations—like Mark Shim and Carlo DeRosa and E.J. Strickland—I thought it be good to take this direction. Victor Gould is a pianist I’ve known since he was a student at Berkeley, and he’s played my music before. So that’s how it came about. I called them up, and fortunately they were available and we knocked it out in the studio.
TJG: For the show on Friday will you be playing tunes from the record?
DG: It’s the original cast of characters from the CD, minus the guest artists, so the core quintet playing, and we’re going to play most of the tunes from the CD.
TJG: What do you see as the challenges and highlights of the ensemble?
DG: The highlights are the level of artistry that each musician brings. We’ve only done a handful of gigs since the record was recorded, so it’s different every time, and it’s just a level of artistry and chemistry that I think is great amongst these guys. What’s also great is the fact that we can actually get along—there are bands that don’t get along, but I always like working with people that I have a good time with, there’s that factor.
As far as the challenges, I could say on a personal level I find some of the music challenging. One tune of mine, “End of Daze,” is one that’s always a challenge to play, and some of the Bobby Hutcherson blues are not the repertoire I’m known for playing. To me this is more of a—dare I use the word—straight ahead kind of a vibe, which you’ll find on a lot of Criss Cross releases. My thought was to sort of bring in a concept in tune with the label and what it generally does and represents. For me that’s sort of stepping outside the box stylistically; it’s more straight ahead—I hate that word—but you know what I’m saying? There’s some out there stuff in there, but there’s some 4/4 straight-ahead swing. For me that’s actually a challenge to get inside that box, more traditional yet kind of still retain a modern edge to it. I’m not being ultra traditional—that’s not what I’m after in my music—but it is a tribute to older jazz. It is one foot in that world and one foot in the modern world, trying to bring a fresh interpretation.
TJG: As a tribute to jazz musicians who passed away as well as your own work, do you see the record as marking a progression forward in time, musically?
DG: Definitely. I think as jazz musicians, we owe it to ourselves to draw on a whole history, and in a way you can’t help but to do that. I have learned from music of the past, the present, and future, and if you want to get esoteric about it, there is no past, present, or future. Music, for me, is in the moment, to use that cliché, it truly is in the moment, and improvisation is instantaneous and it is creation in sound form. That’s what really fascinates me about the language of music—it links the past, present, and future. When you hear a player soloing a live concert, sometimes you can hear that channeling. I hear from young musicians. I hear that especially in Joey Alexander, he’s channeling some old spirits. Where does that come from? To me the energy of the masters from the past exists beyond space and time. In the best world, we’re channeling, and we’re open to that creative space beyond time. That kind of thing fascinates me about this project in particular.
TJG: Do you feel like you see that when you’re teaching?
DG: I definitely do if I’m teaching jazz. I always encourage my students to check out the history, and to become a better player you have to check out the language that came up to this point, that developed the music up to this point. That’s something that some people listen to, that some people don’t [laughs]. I’m always doing that too—I transcribe a lot, I’m getting back into it now, I’m going to a Charlie Parker solo, and Coltrane, and the whole thing, immersing myself in that language—hopefully it comes out in my playing! It’s a matter of just, check out the solos, transcribe, learn the language, learn the phrasing, listen to the records. A lot of students want to learn jazz—they don’t even say I want to, they say I feel I need to, and I say “you don’t need to learn jazz—do you want to?” They say yes or no, and if they say yes, I say you need to learn the language. If you want to learn how to speak French or German you get the book, you go to the country, you immerse yourself. If any student is serious about learning any particular genre, they have to immerse themselves in that style.
TJG: Speaking about immersion, I’m curious about the wide variety of music you’ve played as a studio musician. How do you feel that affects the music you make?
DG: I have very eclectic taste, and I’ve been fortunate to be in a lot of different musical situations as an active player. It’s wearing different hats for me; I grew up listening to pop music and funk and R&B, so that’s always inside of me, before that so-called jazz music, and for me that’s always been in my blood. Music for me is music, it’s just a language, and the different styles are just different accents! I always try to shun the labels. I understand why as humans we categorize things, but I’m not really interested in that. It’s just creating sound that has the ability to touch people, that moves people.
TJG: With that idea of music as a language, what is speaking to you right now?
DG: At the moment I find myself gravitating towards more of a study phase. I’m going back to standards, and also focusing on artists like Thelonious Monk. I’m contemplating doing a project based on the music of Monk, whether it’s actually his tunes, interpreting, or more inspired by the music of Monk. I’m not sure. That’s sort of where I’m at right now. I feel like I’m covering ground that I’ve missed in terms of standards and repertoire, and building my repertoire and language of the past. I’m transcribing, getting back into that, and at the same time I’m studying with some contemporary guys as well, trying to get them to write with me. I’ve got a small study grant from Berklee College of Music, where I teach, to study with some of my good friends, so composition lessons!
This is the first time I’ve played at the new Jazz Gallery under my own name. I don’t know why it took me so long! But I’m very happy to be back there—I miss the old spot, but I love the new spot, and all the recently-done work. I’m excited to hear my music on that stage, and happy that Rio and the whole crew are still there keeping it going. That’s great in this day and age. Creativity in New York City is getting squashed—they’re trying to squeeze it out financially, it’s hard to keep things going for artists. I’m happy that it still going strong!
The David Gilmore Group plays The Jazz Gallery on Friday, August 18th, 2017. The group features Mr. Gilmore on guitar, Mark Shim on tenor saxophone, Victor Gould on piano, Carlo DeRosa on bass, and E.J. Strickland on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $22 general admission ($12 for members) for each set. FREE with SummerPass. Purchase tickets here.