David Adewumi is a trumpeter of expansive vocabulary and strong discipline. The child of Nigerian immigrants and raised in New Hampshire, Adewumi attended New England Conservatory, and upon graduation, received a Soros fellowship for graduate study at Juilliard. Adewumi has also completed notable performance programs through the Banff Summer Jazz Workshop, Thelonious Monk Institute, and Betty Carter Jazz Ahead.
Adewumi’s upcoming debut as a leader at The Jazz Gallery has its origins in a conversation with Dave Douglass, who encouraged Adewumi to assemble a group of young trumpet players. Joining Adewumi will be Adam O’Farrill and Davy Lazar on trumpet, as well as Dean Torrey on bass and Kate Gentile on drums. In a recent phone interview, we discussed Adewumi’s upbringing and education, his musical relationship with O’Farrill and Lazar, and the underlying ideas that connect their compositions.
The Jazz Gallery: What’s the backstory behind your upcoming show, featuring three young trumpeters?
David Adewumi: The idea started during a conversation with Dave Douglass at Juilliard when I was doing the Composers Ensemble there. He took a liking to my music because I was trying to do something a little more outside the box in terms of the aesthetic at Juilliard. He invited me to play some of his music, as well as one of my pieces, at a festival in 2017 with him, Jeremy Pelt, Stephanie Richards, and Nate Wooley. The next year, Dave asked me to think of some other young trumpet players I would want to assemble for a set of original music, and I immediately thought of Davy and Adam.
I almost think of Adam as a stone: He has so much strength in his playing, yet at the same time, he’s very thoughtful and calm. Davy, I see him as a wizard in some ways. Some of the things that he thinks of are so crazy, you have to keep on your toes, and he writes some really hard music, man [laughs]. I’ve enjoyed hearing them over the past couple of years, and I’m excited about playing with them both.
TJG: So Dave Douglass approached you at a time when you were writing music outside the norm for Juilliard; in what way were you pushing against the prevailing aesthetic?
TJG: The philosophy at Juilliard is mainly centered around creating music based around the elements of blues improvisation. Those elements will always be in the music that I write, but at the same time, I went to New England Conservatory before Juilliard, and that aesthetic is based more around free improvisation and Third Stream. It’s almost as if though my music, I’m trying to reconcile two sides of the jazz and improvised music spectrum, the traditional versus the forward-thinking. The music I wrote includes elements based more in free improvisation, which I did a little at Juilliard, but never as much as I did at NEC. Still, the music includes elements of swing, yet instead of being totally obedient to the time, the time exists on its own, and the ensemble plays against it. There might be a really fast swing groove where the horns play my melody rubato, for example. That sound has a powerful impact in terms of what I want the music to evoke emotionally.
TJG: Davy Lazar plays with Kate Gentile a lot in New York in his Davy Lazar Trio, his duo with Kate called Pluto’s Lawyer, and Kate’s band with Matt Mitchell, Snark Horse. Is that where the connection came from for this show?
DA: Absolutely. Kate really learned the music. She has an incredible way of making the music feel good while still nailing all of the super complex parts. Her music with Davy, wow, it’s intense. We’ll likely play three compositions by me, three by Davy, and three by Adam. We’re still working on the music, so it’s all subject to change. We were practicing some of it last week, so I’m excited to see what’s going to happen.
TJG: How did it feel at the rehearsal, running through the music together?
DA: Oh, it was amazing. I could hear the development that Adam and Davy have had over the past couple of years, which I feel every time I hear them play. It inspires me to do my best and show up with everything I have. It’s awesome.
TJG: Did you say it’s exhausting?
DA: [Laughs], No, but what is exhausting is our rehearsal schedule. We’re rehearsing again tomorrow night, and I’ll be taking a late-night bus back to Boston where I’ve been living for the last few weeks because I’m doing a musical with the American Repertory Theater. I’ll return to New York at the end of the month. For the musical, I have to be there at 11 A.M., which means I need to leave New York by 4 or 5 A.M. to be there on time… It’s all in the name of music.
TJG: You sent us a short description of your show ahead of time: “Three emerging trumpet players explore the paradox of beauty in the mundane, by interpreting a series of photographs that capture the stunning significance of the banal.” Can you tell me a little more about that?
DA: When the three of us first got together, we met downtown and were talking about what we wanted the show to be. After talking about it for half an hour or so, an idea about the paradox of beauty naturally developed. Each of us are intrigued by other aspects of art, and I often think about how art doesn’t exist only in galleries: It exists everywhere you see it. Walking down the street, you may see something that wasn’t created by an artist, but in its own way it evokes an intense feeling within you. Adam had also just been to an art exhibition that similarly focused on the concept that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Right now, as we speak, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, and I’m looking at a shelf built from these long pipes. Even though it’s simple in its design, it’s incredible in the way that someone thought to build something that serves a function, yet at the same time, this shelf is something I’ve never seen before. It’s an intriguing idea to think about.
TJG: One last question—Not everything we do is always related to our upbringing, but I wonder if there are connections between your upbringing and your creative practice that you tend to think about more often.
DA: Absolutely. I’m the child of Nigerian immigrants, and growing up in New Hampshire as a person of color, it was difficult to find my identity, especially with everything that’s happening in America for people of color. It’s hard to think about how your existence fits into what happened before you were born. Jazz helped me figure out my place in American life. It helped me learn about all of the things that happened to Africans in America, historically and spiritually. Being a Nigerian immigrant, I grew up in a very musical household, and we would always sing together as a family, including religious songs. You know, you have music itself, rhythm, harmony, melody, and then you have the effect of music that it has emotionally. A lot of people forget about what music does spiritually, connecting us to something greater than ourselves. That’s what drew me to music, and as a musician, I’m thankful I get to carry that with me.
The Festival of New Trumpet Music and The Jazz Gallery present David Adewumi’s Beheld on Monday, September 10, 2018. The band features Mr. Adewumi, Adam O’Farrill, and Davy Lazar on trumpet; Dean Torrey on bass; and Kate Gentile on drums. One set at 7:30 P.M., followed by Nabaté Isles Eclectic Excursions at 9:30 P.M. $15 general admission (FREE for members) for both sets. Purchase tickets here.