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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Tuesday, December 12th, saxophonist Yosvany Terry and bassist Darryl Johns finish off their Mentorship Series tour with a performance at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. The experience has found Johns jumping right into Terry’s working band, playing the leader’s characteristic originals alongside the likes of drummer Marcus Gilmore and pianists Manuel Valera and Glenn Zaleski. We caught up with Johns after the group’s show at the Jazz Museum in Harlem to talk about his work with Terry thus far.

The Jazz Gallery: I saw you perform at the Gallery with “Orange” Julius Rodriguez’s group, and another time as part of Adam O’Farill’s work “I Want My Life Back”. How do you know these guys, and what’s it like to grow up in a community with so many talented, young musicians?

Daryl Johns: Well, I’ve known Adam for a long time, since both of our dads are musicians. The first time I met Adam was at a rehearsal with his dad’s band, when I was 9, and Adam was 11. Orange Julius I’ve known since we did precollege together. I was a junior in high school and he was in 8th grade. So he’s always been my little bro, and I love him. And I’ve kinda just stuck with them. We’re both very close. As people, I can be myself around them, so they’re very cool people to play music with because of that. It really helps when you know the person because it’s chill and you feel like you don’t have to be anybody or play a certain way.

TJG: You come from a very musical family. What was that like, and how deep are the family’s musical roots?

DJ: The roots go as deep as my great uncle. His name was Jimmy Tyler, and he was the first of the musical people in my family. He never really made it that big, he was always low key but he played with Count Basie and Duke Ellington. There are some recordings of him, actually, with Count Basie and Clark Terry, and he sounds really good. He has, like, a bar-honking tenor player vibe. And he played, also, with Wild Bill Davis, so he’s almost like a rock and roll saxophone player—he’s sick. There’s a good recording of him called “Bleep Blop Blues” with Count Basie. Then, besides him, there’s his brother, Robert Tyler, who’s my other great uncle. These are all my dad’s mother’s siblings. And my mom’s dad used to play trumpet. And my parents met at NEC, actually!

I started playing bass at 7, and I’ve always played drums.

TJG: You make some music under the moniker Sweet Joseph. Is that project the result of a specific kind of energy for you? How does that part of your musical personality interactive with your more traditionally jazz-oriented playing? Both are lyrical, but perhaps in slightly different ways.

DJ: Sweet Joseph is a band I started when I got to college, and it’s mostly a recording project right now. I wrote the first song that started it all called “Whoops, Reason Is Bathtime.” I was in a practice room and wrote this song that sounds like the theme song to Full House, with crazy jazz modulation and it’s a pretty orgasmic song. So I called down to my friend, guitarist David Zyto, “Come down to the second floor and let’s play this duo,” and it sounded like Mike Moreno and Aaron Parks guitar and piano.  And I just remember smiling while playing it. It was just such a sweet… it was almost like biting into the sweetest vanilla custard—you’re eating this thing, and you’re smiling, and you can’t stop smiling. And that vibe is why it’s called Sweet Joseph. That project, which is still ongoing, is a reflection of the feeling of inspirational emo rock, but there are still sad undertones. In the indie rock vein, but with jazz influences, of courses.

I definitely went through a period when I got to college that I got a little burnt out. I have some hand problems with bass that are still going on that I’m trying to get under control, so Sweet Joseph is my way of resting from bass and still being creative. I found that playing with band, it was more like friends getting together and messing around, whereas with jazz it almost feels like, especially playing with older people, it can feel like they’re not your friend and they need to earn your respect. And I got tired of that. And I got into Mac DeMarco—this indie rock guy who goes crazy on stage—and I saw that and realized that seems way more fun, and unlike my experience in the jazz world. So I had this feeling of wanting to do what I want. I don’t care if I don’t make money doing it. I don’t care about being the best. I just want to make dope music and I want to have fun, and that’s it. Just with my friends. I don’t have to impress anyone. But now, these two worlds are starting to cross paths and I am realizing how I can make my jazz experience feel like that

TJG: You’ve been playing for a long time and with a lot of different people. What has your time being mentored by Yosvanny Terry been like?

DJ: You know, it’s been really cool. It’s been kicking my ass, which is great in many ways. I wasn’t that familiar with Yosvany before this, and he wasn’t really familiar with me. I was a little nervous at first, because Marcus [Gilmore] plays crazy stuff […] a lot of the time I would worry, “Oh shit, I hope I don’t mess this 11.”

But we played at the Jazz Museum, and the audience of full of black folks, which is surprisingly rare for a jazz audience, and we were in Harlem, so it was great vibes. By that time, I got to know Yosvany a little more. Cause he’s a little intimidating cause he’s cultured, he’s from Cuba, he’s so knowledgeable about the history of the slave trade and I was like, woah, I don’t know anything about this stuff. So he’s this goldmine of knowledge. By the second gig I felt a little looser and felt like I could play around with the 11—I know I keep saying 11, but I just know there’s this one song that’s in 11 and it’s pretty hard. And I finally felt like, “Okay, we’re cool.” So I’m really excited to the next gigs. Not only is it one concert, it’s four concerts. Especially in jazz, it’s rare to get that kind of practice, so that music’s simmering in the back of my mind.

TJG: Anything to add?

DJ: We’re in a crazy time. Sexual assault is finally being called upon. We’re in a time that affects music—racial divides are less divisive, at least in parts of the world that I live in, in New York. Changes, especially, in new music, pop music. Tyler the Creator coming out as gay. These are things are think about—social issues. Just trying not to get too angry about stuff, and talk to my enemies.  

TJG: Given the kind of music Yosvany is bringing forward, do you have feelings on spirituality in music?

DJ: As a very liberal thinking person, when I was younger I wasn’t deeply drawn to religion. But I’m starting to realize that religion is found everywhere. But in music, when people believe in jazz, that’s religious and gives them security in their lives. No matter what format it is, it creates an emotion. I don’t like the divisive elements of religious practice, but otherwise, when I’m playing, I definitely feel this emotion where I can thank a kind of god-figure, whoever that is. I played at a Presbyterian church in Newark, with a lot of older folks in the audience. We would just play this vamp while someone sermonized, and I almost cried. That was a very powerful, religious and musical experience, and it was very emotional and inspiring. I would even go to church because of that. I didn’t have any idea that all was such a part of Yosvany’s music, but I would love to explore it further.

The Jazz Gallery Mentorship Series, vol. 4, ed. 3 concludes at Shapeshifter Lab on Tuesday, December 12th, 2017. The group features Yosvany Terry on saxophone, Daryl Johns on bass, and Marcus Gilmore on drums. One set at 7:00 P.M. $15 general admission.