Like the other members of the incomparably tight electro-jazz group Kneebody, trumpeter Shane Endsley keeps himself busy with a variety of side projects. He’s contributed to the convivial atmosphere of bands like Slavic Soul Party and The Asphalt Orchestra; worked as a sideman with the likes of Ravi Coltrane, Chris Speed, and Ben Allison; and led his own groups, like Shane Endsley and The Music Band, who released their acclaimed album Then The Other in 2011.
This Saturday, October 17th, Endsley will present the latest iteration of a project in which he interprets the work of classic singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Nick Drake, alongside his own tuneful compositions. We caught up with Shane by phone from his new home in Denver to talk about the genesis of this project, bridging stylistic differences, and settling into a new city after many years in New York.
The Jazz Gallery: How have you been?
Shane Endsley: I’ve been good. It’s a busy time of life, I’ve got a lot of stuff going on. My family and I moved recently, and we’re getting settled back in Denver, where I grew up. We’re getting the kids in school: I grew up here, but coming back as a dad is completely different. I’ve got a new teaching gig out here. Plus, I’ve been doing Kneebody work and playing my own gigs, so it feels like a bit of an overload.
TJG: You must be traveling a lot recently.
SE: I do travel a fair amount. I’m probably gone for three months out of the year, and that’s all split up into about a week at a time, sometimes two weeks.
TJG: So, lets get right to your upcoming show. What a huge lineup of musicians! How did this configuration start?
SE: I was thinking about folks who would sound good on the music I had in mind, which were a handful of classic singer-songwriter pieces, plus a handful of my own charts which were pretty inspired by that stuff. Neal Young, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and so on. So, I wanted some jazz players to be on it, but I also wanted people with more of a footing in vocal music and folk music. Nate Radley definitely has that vibe—he plays really great blues and folk music on pedal steel and guitar. Gerald Cleaver is such a flexible player. He works in the avant-garde or free spheres, but he has such a beautiful sound and feel when it comes to rhythm. He has a deep pocket if that’s what the music calls for. As for Matt Clohesy and Uri Caine, I’ve played with them a couple times. Matt has such a big sound and nice feel, and can play very simple, moving music. Same with Uri—that guy’s such an open book, can go in so many directions. He’s such an easy guy to work with. It’s a new lineup with those guys. Over the last year, it’s been a continuously different lineup of folks, and it’s been difficult to hold together a regular band outside of Kneebody. So, this show at The Gallery will feature an interesting collection of players, that you might not normally hear together.
TJG: Given the lineup and material, what kind of approach will you be taking to this music with this collective of musicians?
SE: I think we’ll try to find a natural expression of bridging the gap between a heavier modern jazz and a traditional, folk-rock aesthetic. We’ll be looking for a bit of a middle ground. That’s my main way of generalizing the sound I’m going for when I write. That concepts feeds many ideas for arrangements, and will be in my head during rehearsals.
TJG: Have you done any arranging ahead of time for these songs, and any sort of arranging dictated by the people you’ll be playing with?
SE: Yeah, a little bit. Some of these songwriter songs I’ve been kind of doing on gigs over the past year or so. Some of these arrangements I’ve had already, so they’ll fit with this configuration. More of the new and original material I’m writing is with this band in mind.
TJG: Can you give us an idea or sneak-peek at some of the songs you’ll be playing?
SE: We’re going to do “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young, one of my favorites of his. We’ll do one from Nick Drake called “Cello Song.” I think we might do an Elliott Smith song called “Single File.” And we might try a Joni Mitchell song. I love the Joni tune “Amelia.” And I have an arrangement of “Mrs. Robinson,” by Simon & Garfunkel. It’s more up tempo with a different bass line, it feels really fun. It feels like a happy marriage between something I’d write or play, and this super traditional, well-known song.
TJG: And so you’ll be pairing these songs with compositions of your own?
SE: Yes, that’s right. With my writing lately, I’ve been trying to take a more lyrical approach. For some of these acoustic quartet and quintet settings, I’ve been trying to get away from more technical aspects of the trumpet and to really sing through the horn.
TJG: I read an interview that you gave a few years ago, where you said your career began at a very early age, given that your father was an important teacher to you.
SE: That’s right. A professional musician, trumpet player, and my teacher all through high school. He started me on trumpet, and he’s one of my main important teachers on the instrument and in music. He started putting me on gigs from an early age. Even in the first year I was playing, he would take me on church gigs with him and have me play whatever I could. It was a great experience. Brass quintets, concert band, stuff at the theater.
TJG: So he gave you these opportunities, and introduced you to the instrument: What aspects of your musicianship do you think came from that musical relationship?
SE: Well, a few things. One is that he was such a well-studied and instinctive musician that he had these instincts for phrasing and emotional content. He wasn’t just a technical trumpet guy. He really knows so much orchestral, chamber, early brass, and baroque music. He had such a good emotional connection that he imparted to me. So when you’re playing in the concert band, it should still be expressive, vocal. Some of that is what I’m getting back to now with the music we’ll be playing at The Jazz Gallery. It’s getting back to roots, in a sense. And then of course, he taught me professionalism, what’s involved in being a musician in different situations and jobs. What goes into playing weddings, concerts, symphonies. He helped me understand that there is a wide range of skills that we as musicians need to be able to learn.
TJG: You’ve said that Ralph Alessi was one of your biggest influences and mentors in college.
SE: I studied with him at Eastman. Ralph Alessi and Ron Miles are the two trumpet players who have influenced me most in jazz, improvising, composition, artistic sensibility. Ron lives here in Denver. When I was growing up I’d just go over to his house a lot, and he was always really generous with his time. And, we’d go to hear him play all the time. Then, in the college years, that’s when I started studying with Alessi. In addition to being a huge influence on me, since I love his playing and his writing, he was also someone who helped bridge me from college studies into the professional world. He brought me into playing with Steve Coleman’s band, with Ravi Coltrane, and other people I wouldn’t have had a chance to play with. He helped get me going.
TJG: Who are some of your peers on the scene that you admire today?
SE: I love Ambrose Akinmusire. I think he’s such a great trumpet player and writer. I’m a fan of the people in his band too. Folks like Gerald Clayton and Justin Brown, Ambrose, Walter Smith, Harish Raghavan, Joe Sanders. Those guys who play together in each other’s bands in different formations—I think those guys are playing some of the coolest music right now, getting such individual sounds on their instruments and in their bands. Those are some of my favorite players to listen to and play with. I really like this band called Paris Monster and their drummer Josh Dion. He sings and plays keyboard at the same time. That band is really great. I’ve been listening to Haitus Kayote, like a lot. I love that band. I’ve seen the band live a few times and they sound amazing. They have a great blend, they’re so relaxed, but so coordinated. That’s some of the coolest writing and arranging I’ve been hearing lately.
TJG: A lot of those names, that scene, and those shows would really be associated with New York. But you mentioned you’re working on leaving New York and moving back to Denver. How is that all clicking together?
SE: So far it’s really good. I’m just in the process of getting settled. It’s such a big transition on multiple levels. This is a first time I’ve moved our whole family—myself, wife, and kids. Denver offers a lot for our family, which is great. I’m starting to teach at Metropolitan State University, where Ron Miles had the jazz department. Actually, Don Byron just came out here at the same time as me to start teaching. So there’s an exciting new teaching position. I’ve been guest artist at a number of colleges, and I’ve done teaching through the New School, but this is my first time having a steady college teaching position. So it’s exciting, it’s brand new, and I’ve been enjoying it.
This gig at The Gallery is exciting, actually, because I’ve been in New York for a long time, and have been toying with the idea of leaving. Most of us migrate to New York from somewhere else, and living there creates so much adversity and challenge that are absent in other cities. At the same time, it’s such an amazing, irreplaceable city. It’s a tough decision to leave. But ultimately, I realized that during the last few years in New York, I’d gotten so much more busy running around doing daily life. Picking up my kids from school, teaching private lessons, taking the car to the shop. That’s not why I moved to New York. I did it to play and to be in the middle of the most vibrant music scene. I was beginning to lose that in the daily grind. Now, I feel so excited about the opportunity to come back and be in town just to play. I’ll have free days to be with my family, and then enjoy New York in the way that I used to. I’m looking for the balance of having a relaxed and peaceful life in Denver with my family, yet not lost the relationships and connections I’ve forged in New York with musicians I admire and miss already. I feel good about the move, and it feels like a new project. This gig at The Gallery feels like a great first step.
TJG: Do you have any upcoming plans for a release or another project?
SE: I do, actually. I’m mulling over how I want to do it. I’m kind of considering doing something where I play more of the instruments. I play quite a bit of drums too, and a little piano. I was thinking about putting something together where I’m building something on my own, then sending it off to friends for them to add on parts, to piecemeal a record together. I’m also considering an acoustic quartet or quintet record, maybe get some people from New York out here in Denver. I haven’t quite settled on it yet, but the short answer is that I do plan on releasing a new solo album sometime in the middle of 2016.
Shane Endsley plays The Jazz Gallery on Saturday, October 17th, 2015. Mr. Endsley—on trumpet—will be joined by Nate Radley on guitar, Uri Caine on piano, Matt Clohesy on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $22 general admission ($12 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.