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Román Filiú at The Village Vanguard (via

Román Filiú at the Village Vanguard (via

This Friday and Saturday, July 18th and 19th, 2014, will conclude The Jazz Gallery’s 2013-2014 Residency Commissions series. These two nights will feature original music from Cuban-born saxophonist-composer Román Filiú and the septet that he convened for the occasion. Filiú assumes the final chapter in the series storyline—this year focused on saxophonists and reed players—outlined by Ben WendelGreg Ward, Ben van Gelder, and Godwin Louis earlier in the season.

Since 2011, Filiú has successfully embedded himself in the engine of New York’s contemporary jazz scene, firing with cylinders like Matt BrewerMarcus Gilmore, Dafnis Prieto, Adam Rogers, Yusnier SanchezDavid Virelles, and Craig Weinrib, among others. Prior to landing in New York, Filiú was based in Havana for eight years while heavily involved with Chucho Valdes‘s “Irakere” band and also in Madrid for six years, often working with David Murray and Doug Hammond. A frequenter of our stage and our blog, the saxophonist will call upon Ralph Alessi, Dayna Stephens, David Virelles, Matt Brewer, Craig Weinrib, and Yusnier Sanchez to present his new material. We caught up with him by phone this past week:

The Jazz Gallery: Could you tell us a bit about what you’ve been working on in your residency?

Román Filiú: When The Jazz Gallery presented the opportunity to me, I wanted to do something that drew on inspiration from the music I grew up with—music that I heard in my hometown. As Santiago de Cuba was a very musical town, with traditions across conga, bolero, and sonCarnival music—I was inundated with it all of the time. Aside from my father being a musician, my brothers were violin players so I was trying to compete with them, trying to play violin music because I was the only one that played saxophone.

Aside from Cuban music, we were listening to a lot of classical, things like Bartók or Zoltán Kodály. I didn’t know anything about jazz; I wasn’t listening to it at the time. So it was an interesting mix of classical music, Carnival music, Cuban folkloric music, and popular music in Cuba that was on the radio. This residency was about considering this whole musical environment: how all of these styles converged in my head, opening up my mind to more advanced music and helping me find my own voice. I tried to reproduce these themes in the songs that I’ve been working on and frame them within the context of jazz improvisation.

I am grateful to The Jazz Gallery for the opportunity to make this music. I’m very fond of everyone else who has participated in this series, so it’s an honor.


Photo via

Photo via

We’ve been in touch with saxophonist Ben van Gelder a number of times over the past year: he spoke with us for an extended interview in October when he appeared with his quartet, and again in March for a weekend residency that featured both a chordless quartet and his working quintet. Back yet again, Ben will be premiering new works as part of our 2013-14 Residency Commissions series, which were composed over the past month for a larger ensemble than his more recent quartet-quintet work. For those unfamiliar with Ben’s sonic profile, NPR bestowed this appraisal upon the Dutch-born altoist after the conclusion of the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition last fall:

His blowing was deliberate, methodical, slow-developing; he held notes for what felt like a bit longer than his peers and often landed flush on top of the beat. His tone felt a bit reedy on purpose…One gets the sense he was cultivating a “hip to be square” vibe — perhaps inspired by teacher Lee Konitz, another alto-sax original.

Here’s our conversation with Ben about his latest compositional pursuits, his strategies for overcoming writer’s block, and how the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami has been an inspiration in more ways than one:

The Jazz Gallery: What have you been working on so far during your Residency?

Ben van Gelder: The only thing that was really clear for me before I started was the instrumentation: I wanted to write for a seven-piece band. I started checking out a lot of larger ensemble stuff and a lot of music that I’ve always wanted to check out but didn’t have the time or patience to. I’ve been doing that and really trying to conceptualize everything before I sit down at the piano and start writing. It’s been a pretty conscious process and not so intuitive, I would say.

The fact that I have this space where I can go and work on music on a regular basis really helps because, for me, writing is hard and takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. For me, it works best when I can keep working at it for a long time in a row; consistency really helps. Even when there are days where not a lot is happening, something will start to happen somewhere along the line.

TJG: Have you been checking out any music for ideas or inspiration for this residency? 

BVG: I’ve been listening to these Herbie Hancock records from the ’70s with his Mwandishi band: Sextant, Crossings, those records. I’ve been checking out a lot of that—the music won’t sound like that—but just to get ideas for instrumentation, orchestration, and some conceptual frameworks. I’ve also been listening to some classical music like Morton Feldman, which is sonically very interesting and very different from a lot of other music.


Photo via

Photo via

This Friday and Saturday, June 20th and 21st, 2014, saxophonist Godwin Louis will present a new musical project at The Jazz Gallery as part of our 2013-2014 Residency Commissions series, which this year features saxophonists and reed players. This is the third performance in the series, following Ben Wendel in February and Greg Ward in May, and will be followed by Ben van Gelder in late June and conclude with Roman Filiu in July.

Godwin spent his youth both in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Port au Prince, Haiti, before studying at the Berklee College of Music and the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz. His project draws from his Haitian heritage and his modern jazz training alike. This past week, Godwin spoke to us about the inspiration for his project:

I attended the Thelonious Monk Institute in New Orleans, where I got to study with the likes of Barry Harris, Jimmy Heath, and Billy Pierce. I’m also of Haitian descent: my parents are from the beautiful island of Haiti, and I actually got to live there between 1994 and 1997. When I moved to New Orleans, the very first thing I noticed was that there was a heavy presence of Catholicism like you’d find in the rest of the Caribbean, whether Antigua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, or Puerto Rico. I lived next to a Catholic church, and the bell would go off by the hour, which reminded me of Haiti. The cuisine and the architecture were similar, too. Even though I had never studied traditional New Orleans jazz before, when I heard the music, it felt like some of the Haitian music my dad would play for me growing up; there were similar arpeggios and chord movements and cadences.

When I was at the Institute, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra did a project in New Orleans. The clarinetist Victor Goines talked about the history of music in New Orleans and the relationship between the city and Haiti. Many Africans that ended up in New Orleans came by way of Haiti, and a big reason for the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon was the Haitian Revolution. After hearing that, I was like, “Okay. I get it now.” I understood why people called New Orleans the northernmost city in the Caribbean. Also, I got to work with Dr. Michael White, a great New Orleans clarinetist, and he taught me more about how some parts of New Orleans jazz came from Haitian sources.

After that, I became more and more interested in Haitian culture, something I took for granted as a teenager. For the past four years, I’ve gone back to Haiti a few times a year to learn more of the country’s history, to try to find documentation supporting the idea that a lot of music passed from Haiti to New Orleans, and to become more familiar with the rhythms of Haitian music. I also began to work on a series of compositions showcasing the connections between Haiti and New Orleans.

However, the project has changed over the past few years. A lot of what I’m writing is coming from the rhythms I’ve learned in Haiti and the Haitian composers that I’ve checked out, like Ludovic Lamothe, who was known as the “Black Chopin.” I will be performing some interpretations of his work at The Jazz Gallery as well as my own pieces that try to bring the modern saxophone side of my personality to the Haitian rhythms that I love. There are so many wonderful musical cultures on the continent that travel all over and inform each other, and I feel that it’s very important to draw from them. This is an ongoing project, and I hope to keep adding to it over the next few years.

Godwin Louis will present his new Haitian-inspired musical project this Friday and Saturday, June 20th and 21st, 2014. Louis will appear as part of The Jazz Gallery 2013-14 Residency Commissions. Joining him will be Pauline Jean on vocals, Axel Tosca Laugart on piano, Billy Buss on trumpet, Zach Brown on bass, Nick Falk on drums, and Paulo Stagnaro on percussion. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m. $22 general admission and $10 for Members. Purchase tickets here. 

The Jazz Gallery’s Residency Commission 2013-2014 is supported in part by a funding from the Jerome Foundation with additional support from the New York State Council on the Arts and Department of Cultural Affairs of New York City.

Photo by Don Getsug

Photo by Don Getsug

This Friday and Saturday, May 16th and 17th, 2014, alto saxophonist Greg Ward will present a musical tribute to artist and mentor Preston Jackson as part of The Jazz Gallery 2013-14 Residency Commissions. Greg is the second artist to be featured in this year’s season of saxophonic commissions following Ben Wendel, who performed his commissioned work in February. Next month, we’ll be presenting both Godwin Louis and Ben van Gelder as the next two artists in the series.

We spoke to Greg last month as he was beginning his residency, and we followed up with him earlier this week to get a sense of how things went. We’re excited to hear what he’s come up with and hope that you’ll join us to welcome him back to our stage.

The Jazz Gallery: Last month, you mentioned looking forward to writing for septet; in writing for this medium-sized group, how did you negotiate a balance between spontaneous improvisation and preconceived, written material?

Greg Ward: Well, I try to just write the music: what I want to have set and written. Then when I want to begin to orchestrate the ideas for the ensemble, I try to find space where it would fit musically for people to explore. I try to find space where we can expand on what I’d already written, so once I had a clear idea of what I wanted written down and I began to put it together, I knew where it’d be appropriate to have some sort of solo section or other moments of improvisation.

Also, when we got a chance to get together and rehearse the material—that let me get a clearer picture of how the musicians would all sound together. Once you get an idea of how they respond to what you write, you can say, “Oh, this space would work well for this player and for his personality to interpret the music.” So that was the biggest factor after getting a chance to hear what I wrote down and seeing what they did with it. I want everybody to express themselves.


Photo by Don Getsug

Photo by Don Getsug

Following Ben Wendel’s December residency, saxophonist and composer Greg Ward will be at The Jazz Gallery through April and early May as part of our Residency Commissions series. Ward is known in the jazz world for leading bands such as Sonic Juggernaut, his powerhouse trio with bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Damion Reid, but also works effortlessly across genre boundaries; for instance, he has composed works for the International Contemporary Ensemble and the Peoria Ballet Company, and was recently commissioned to compose a work for the Chicago-based Spektral String quartet, currently in residence at the University of Chicago. We caught up with Greg by phone to talk about his plans for his Residency this month.

The Jazz Gallery: Are there any particular goals or musical ideas you want to achieve during your residency?

Greg Ward: I’d like to execute this project to the best of my ability, which is composing a set of music that really expresses my gratitude and overall appreciation for the influence that I’ve received from my mentor, Preston Jackson, and also to showcase different aspects of his work,  his life, and our interactions together through music.

Also, we’ve made a film for this project and over this next six weeks we hope to put that together as best as we can. I’d like to leave the audience with a little curiosity about Preston Jackson—to go and to be inspired by his work as I have been.

TJG: Could you say a few words about Preston Jackson for those who may be less familiar with his work?

GW: Preston Jackson is well known as a visual artist, sculptor, welder, painter. He’s done a lot of public art—all kinds of stuff—and he’s really just a master, one of the people I was very fortunate to meet at a young age, but the thing that’s special about him is that he’s explored many different facets of art—or just many disciplines of life.

He’s still an amazing musician to this day and a master martial artist; he was a Tai Chi master as well. It’s just amazing that somebody has pursued these different paths that, to me, seem they would take an entire life to master just one, but he’s done all that in his 70 years. (more…)