Photo by Amy Mills
As an avid student and experienced educator, Maria Grand is no stranger to the mentorship process. Upon arriving in New York six years ago, she became the protégée of legendary musicians Billy Harper, Antoine Roney, and Von Freeman, and quickly found work with Steve Coleman in his various small groups. Additionally, Grand is at home on the stage at The Jazz Gallery, having appeared multiple times as a bandleader and award recipient. She is one of three most recent Jazz Gallery Commissionees, and this summer staged an extended version of her work “TetraWind” as Embracements, expanding the sound and the concept of the project.
In the latest installment of the Gallery’s mentorship series, Grand will be working with saxophonist Steve Lehman and his band. The quartet will present three shows across the city, at The Jazz Gallery, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and SEEDS in Brooklyn. For all three shows, Grand and Lehman will be joined by Matt Brewer on bass and Damion Reid on drums. We spoke about her album TetraWind, her hopes and expectations for the concerts, and her thoughts on the mentorship process.
TJG: I’ve plenty of questions about your concerts with Steve Lehman, but first I have a few questions about your last album, TetraWind. Could you talk about the spoken section midway through “South (Quantum)”?
MG: Sure. Originally, there were lyrics to everything. I wrote all the songs on TetraWind thinking about words in some way. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about words while writing melodies, but there was an overall meaning to each song. For “South,” we did that interlude section, and I really wanted to have a poem over it. It felt like the best spot on the album for it. I wrote all the music while in Colombia when a huge amount of police brutality was happening. Somebody over there told me this surreal story where someone put laxatives in old meat and left it out for the birds to eat, so for a week after that, everybody got sh*t on [laughs]. It’s surreal to become aware that one reality is so different than another. It was, for me, a connection with what was happening back in the states. The whole thing seemed surreal. Police brutality has been many people’s reality for a long time, but if you step back for a moment, and think about a policeman killing someone who’s twelve because they have a toy gun, it seems impossibly surreal. That’s how the poem came about. I wanted to make that statement, but at the same time, I wanted the statement to be available to someone who listens to the whole thing and experiences it through the end. It leaves you thinking, ends on a dark note.
TJG: Do you do a lot of writing?
MG: That’s something I want to expand on. I use a lot of different things to write. Some things are more a part of art and not really a part of music. Sometimes I need movement. I write words, even when they don’t make it to the final product. They’re on my mind when I’m writing the music. I sing a lot too, which is something I got from Steve Coleman. I sing all the things I want to play, then transcribe it. That’s how a lot of the music came about.
TJG: Another question about TetraWind: Of the seventy or so interviews I’ve done for The Jazz Gallery, only a couple of people have had projects which included electric bass. Rashaan Carter sounds amazing on electric bass on the record. What was your thinking behind the choice?
MG: I asked him to play electric from the start. I love the electric bass. I think it’s from playing with Steve Coleman and Anthony Tidd a lot. I like the bass to be loud. When Rashaan plays, there’s a weight to his notes. That’s what I wanted in the music, you know? Electric has such presence. And he never wants to walk, he’ll say “If I’m playing electric, I want to try some different stuff.” It works out for me [laughs].