Michael Attias Interview, NYC

Michael Attias, 2016 ©Clara Pereira

Michael Attias, 2016 ©Clara Pereira

 

Name: Michael Attias
Instrument: alto saxophone
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Nerve Dance (Clean Feed, 2017), Spun Tree (Clean Feed, 2012), Renku (Playscape Recordings, 2005)

 

 

 

 

 

On Thursday, June 22, you’re going to lead an all-star tribute to Motian’s music. It will be the first of four special events celebrating the fifth-anniversary of the Sound It Out series. How did this invitation happen?
I was at the Greenwich House listening to a concert. It was the Mike Bagetta trio with Jerome Harris and Billy Mintz, and Bradley [Bambarger] told me about the fundraising tributes he wanted to do for the Greenwich House School. He was mentioning different options and we just started questioning: who is a major influence these days for all these people who come from several directions and have so many different perspectives? It’s Motian, both as a composer and bandleader. He really influenced a whole generation of players on the current scene. He’s the one person everybody can love (laughs). 

You guys recorded On Broadway vol.5, right? How do you recall working with him?
Actually, I did two records with him. The first was under the leadership of Masabumi Kikuchi and Terumasa Hino and came out on Sony in Japan. Unfortunately, I don’t think it ever had a US release, but I really love that record.
Masabumi, Thomas Morgan, and I had been meeting at Masabumi’s place for several months and improvising completely free. Masabumi was recording all those improvisations and, I mean, it was a pretty intense thing because he listened so deeply. He had these amazing ears and listened like an x-ray, not just to the notes but to the whole shape, the intention, the attitude of the players, the overtones… so, listening to what you had just improvised with him by your side was kind of scary... and great!
Occasionally he would burn a CD right away and say: “see if there’s anything you like from here”. And at that time I didn’t know who was going to be the drummer. I think three or four pieces on that record came out of sketches I made of those free improvisations. So, that was the first record with Paul.
He liked Thomas and me. It was maybe the second time he'd played with Thomas and I think that was when he decided he was going to work with him, and their hook-up is amazing on that record. And then he just said: “I hope we can get to work together some time” and for me it was totally a dream come true. I think of him often and he was a big, big influence. He really changed me in the way I write and think about music, and even in how to deal with making charts.

How was the tune selection made for the event?
I've asked all the musicians to bring their favorites and from that list I’ll pick, I would say, maybe eight or nine pieces; ten at the maximum. Each of them will be performed by a different formation out of the lineup, with lots of great players. Some of the instrumentations are inspired by Paul’s groups, having two guitars, having two tenors, two altos. Some of these guys worked with Paul before while others never did but were close to this music. I don’t know if Ralph Alessi ever worked with Paul, but I think it will be interesting to hear Ralph playing this music… I suggested some of the musicians and Bradley Bambarger suggested others.

Your latest release, Nerve Dance, shows a completely different direction than your debut, Credo, in which I hear lots of folk elements scattered throughout the melodies. What do you think changed in your music?
Credo was released in 1999 but the music had been written since 1996, maybe. It's not my first record. I did another one that only came out in France but was completely lost.  But yes, the folk elements are there. Igal Foni, the drummer on that record, and I are very close, and we spent a lot of time listening to gnawa music, which I still love. Some rhythms and even the way the bass sounded on some pieces were also very influenced by the sound of the gimbri ... But to me, “Dark Net”, the first tune of Nerve Dance, is still relating to that, however, the polyrhythms are not so explicit, it’s not just about the grid but how each rhythm pulls against the other and distorts the grid a little bit. It’s different in the way that lots of great music today is played with very complex meters, and it's about being very accurate and very precise. And I think that’s valuable, I mean, we live in a world of machines and we have to deal with these machines in a way that we almost need to be better than them. But that’s not really my thing. Speaking about Motian, he is the best example to link to that because he was definitely not a machine.There are no right angles on this grid, and to me there are also no right angles in African music. There’s ambiguity and that is very important to me. The way that Nasheet, Aruan, and Hebert play on "Dark Net", even though we didn’t talk about gnawa or Moroccan music, tells us it's in there, but maybe it's less on the surface ...  And then, you change with time, you get older, and I really feel that I don’t have an identity, in the sense that to have an identity you have to stay identical to some image of yourself. I'm not interested in that. I think identity is deeper.

Do you have a particular compositional process?
I don’t have a single process. I have several processes. When in NY, I spend a lot of time writing in the subway. I carry these little notebooks around and I fill them up, taking advantage of time and adversity, like your enemies are right there! It’s a slightly paranoid state of mind but it’s good because it helps with the creative thing. 

I was able to identify Coltrane, Threadgill, and Andrew Hill when listening to your music. Are they big inspirations to you?
Yes, all of them. I mean, Threadgill… I would not necessarily say Threadgill’s specific writing materials but the way he treats his alto saxophone, his sound, and the elegance, incisiveness, and poetry in his music. I think Threadgill has made his own little kitchen and I relate to that. I’m a pretty much self-taught, definitely as a composer I’m self-taught. I had a great saxophone teacher for a couple years in Minneapolis, but in the lessons we basically worked on classical stuff. He left me a lot of room to find myself as an improvisor. So, in that way, I’ve also built my own cuisine.
Coltrane, of course, in a very deep way, always, since I was 13 or 14 years old. And Andrew Hill for sure; discovering his and Paul Motian’s music happened for me at a later time. When I was young it was really Monk, Ornette, Coltrane, Miles, Lester Young, you know… Paul Motian's was through that album with Paul Bley, John Gilmore, and Gary Peacock. Do you know that album, Turning Point? It blew my mind. Also, Andrew Hill was not before I moved to NY. There’s a sort of mystery in their approach to time and you can always hear groove in their music no matter how abstract it may sound. Time is a negotiation between everybody that is playing and that's Andrew's big influence. Every step, every moment, nothing is taken for granted.

John Hébert has been a longtime associate in your projects but Aruan Ortiz and Nasheet Waits are the new valuable elements in a quartet whose chemistry can be strongly felt. What did they bring to your music?
I've done concerts and toured with Nasheet in the past and we both played in John’s first record, Byzantine Monkey, recorded in 2008. It has been a pleasure to play with him together with Aruan and John. They all bring who they are, I mean, they’re such individuals, and they express that individuality in each sound they make and in each sound they don’t make. There’s definitely fire, spontaneity, and risk. Every band is different, and the musicians who play with me in Spun Tree and Renku also have all that, but I agree that there’s a specific chemistry in this quartet and that’s why you have a different band. 

How do you see the current jazz scene?
There are so many creative energies at work right now. I mean, people talk about it and you’ll hear the same things: there are not enough places to play, there’s no way that you can live from it… One situation that is happening right now, which is a little bit of a problem, is that, because of economic pressures and the music industry, it’s much harder to live in NYC now than it used to be. To really pursue a creative life in NY, you either have to be independently wealthy or be really good at all kinds of things that have nothing to do with music. Or you have to be very lucky… There’s a whole period of your development where you shouldn't  have to define yourself and that’s missing a little bit. You go straight from school to..., you know, you have your PR, you have your image, and that’s what you’re gonna do. And that’s cool, but a little thin. It’s very important to waste time, to make mistakes and to get lost in the woods, and if you’re going to do that, you really have to defend it. The way things are done push you to be successful in a certain kind of way but, artistically, the result of that is not going to last. But there’s so much talent and unbelievable technique out there, and the scene remains vibrant with lots of interesting musicians, especially drummers and bass players, who are all so different from each other.

If not a musician, what would you have been?
Dead! (laughs). I could have done a lot of bad things in my life, and I didn’t because I had this discipline and this passion for music, and that kept me together. Everything has been about how to create a space for it and grow with it.

What other types of music do you listen to?
So many things. Debussy, Ligeti, Bach, lots of 20th century contemporary music, folk music from around the world, classical music from other places, West African music, also hip-hop. There are periods when I get obsessed with one hip-hop album. It just happened with Nas’ album, Illmatic.

What was the first jazz album you fell in love with?
Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. That was when I had perhaps 12 years old. I was like: what is that? And I kept listening to it over and over again.

Can you name a few musicians whom you’ve never collaborated with, but you’d like to?
Roscoe Mitchell, Andrew Cyrille, and Craig Taborn.

Anna Webber Interview, NYC

Anna Webber, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

Anna Webber, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

 

 

Name: Anna Webber
Instrument: tenor saxophone, flute
Style: avant-garde, contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Binary (Skirl, 2016), Simple (Skirl, 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you weren't a musician, what would you have been?
I was very close to studying anthropology in college.

What do you picture in your mind when you're improvising?
I'm not picturing anything. I'm trying to respond as honestly I can to whatever musical stimuli are coming my way.

What was the first tune you really fell in love with?
Not sure about the first tune, but one of the first jazz albums I got obsessed with was Joe Henderson's album Page One.

Tell me 2 persons who marked you the most as a musician.
I was lucky enough to have very generous and supportive teachers when I was in high school and college - those are the people who've likely shaped me the most musically.

Besides jazz, what other styles do you listen to? Tell me your favorite musician(s) for each style.
I listen to mostly not jazz - a lot of hip hop, rock, pop, new music, etc. Recently I've been listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen, Elliott Smith, Kendrick Lamar, and Iannis Xenakis.

When and how did you form your Simple Trio? What are the qualities you most admire in Hollenbeck and Mitchell?
I formed the Simple Trio in 2013. I had studied with John Hollenbeck when I did a master's degree in composition in Berlin in 2011/2012. Matt Mitchell and I became friends when I moved back to New York. I like working with both of these guys because they have the ability to play very complicated music in a way which belies its complexity - they make it sound natural and alive. We also have large areas of overlap on our aesthetic sensibilities, so I can trust them to improvise in a way that brings out the best in my music.

On what projects are you working right now?
I'm going to be writing a set of octet music this summer for a new band. I also just released a digital album with a trio called Jagged Spheres which I co-lead with Elias Stemeseder and Devin Gray.


Ivo Perelman Interview, NYC

Ivo Perelman, 2015, ©Clara Pereira

Ivo Perelman, 2015, ©Clara Pereira

 

 

Name: Ivo Perelman
Instrument: tenor saxophone
Style: free jazz, avant-garde jazz
Recent Album Highlights: Breaking Point (Leo Records, 2016), The Art of the Improv Trio (Leo Records, 2016) and The Art of Perelman-Shipp (Leo Records, 2017) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First inevitable question: what drives you to keep creating in an unstoppable way?
Since five years ago, I started to intensify my relationship with the music, with the sonic texture and the pureness of sound. I’ve just realized that my main energetic pattern is basically music. That’s why I’m a musician. It comes alive! It’s like I’m experiencing the world in a musical/energetic way.

How did your recent European tour with Matthew Shipp go?
It was fantastic. I came back willing to spend some more time in Europe. I felt at home there. It was incredible how the things grew. It started slowly, but then on the fifth show, it was almost as if the sax started talking by itself. By the way, Leo Records is going to release soon a 6-CD box with our concerts in Europe – The Art of Perelman-Shipp Live.

When and how did you start this collaboration with Matthew?
I met him here in NY around the early 90s. At that time his wife was working at a restaurant. We started talking and suddenly she asked me: “you’re a musician, do you know Matthew Shipp?” I said: “yes, I know him and I like what he plays”. When I talked to him for the first time, we decided to record right away without rehearsal, exactly the way I like it. We went to the studio, without knowing each other well, and we recorded my record Bendito of Santa Cruz.

I know that record very well. Actually, I’m a fan of your initial phase, when you used to mix Brazilian influences with avant-jazz. Do you ever think of going back to those roots again?
It’s true that my style changed and that’s because now I’m willing to explore sounds and timbres, or what we call of sound techniques. In truth, I’m studying shehnai, an Indian instrument with double reed. I’ve been focusing a lot on a musician who is considered the Coltrane of shehnai, Bismillah Khan. So, I’m still open to other types of music and it's not that I left Brazilian influences behind; it’s just the phase I’m into right now. Maybe one day I can go back to that.

Do you listen to music from Brazil? Like bossanova, for instance?
Not bossanova, but I sometimes listen to picturesque funny stuff that reminds me my childhood. Brazilian music talks to me in an emotional way. I retrieve the music I used to listen to when I was a teenager, a slightly troubled period of my life, like happens with the majority of teenagers. I had many options and wanted to quickly find what I would be in my life. I had some pressure from my family since they wanted me to study while I just wanted to play music with my friends. A musician that I identified myself with at that time is called Guilherme Arantes, who was a good composer from a harmonic perspective, but after his first phase, his music became more commercial. Thus, it speaks to my heart and I fetch this music sometimes, so I can feel I’m 15 years old again (laughs).

Are there any other styles you like to listen to? 
Currently, I’m listening to Indian ragas because of Ismillah Khan. There was a time that it was Maria Callas’ music. It depends. There are periods of time that I like to turn on the radio on the Internet, an app that I choose the music I want to hear from any part of the globe.

What about jazz?
I always listen to jazz. Recently, when I went to Brazil, and especially when I was stuck in São Paulo’s traffic, I played on the CD player the music of classic tenor saxophonists from the 50s and 60s like Harold Land, Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins, Pete Christlieb, Wane Marsh. Now, back in NY, I’m more centered on my saxophone and the time is more limited to listen to music.

You’re also an active visual artist. Does it work like in the music? Do you ever stop? 
Now, I’ve stopped a little bit because I have many artworks in a gallery in São Paulo. I’m afraid that the gallery can't accumulate a lot of material if I keep creating.

Are these art forms connected somehow? What do you picture in your mind when you’re improvising?
They are totally connected. I think of sonic structures since I’m an expressionistic, geometrically-abstract architect of sound. I search for volumes, energetic masses that temporarily solidify. In my head, this is precisely visual art before coming out as music.
 
What was the hardest time of your career?
About 20 years ago, there was a phase that I didn’t know which direction to take. I was unable to move from where I was. Yet, this period didn’t last long, I would say between 6 months and a year or so. Also, I had a severe tendinitis in my arm that hampered me to play for some time. In order to avoid that, I try to lead a healthy life, including sleeping regular hours and avoiding excesses in terms of eating and drinking.

And when did you feel most fulfilled?
It’s now! I think my ideas are flowing and are being reproduced with fidelity through the saxophone. They are coming out abundantly, and I feel I’m not struggling with my instrument anymore. I reached a phase that I always have dreamt of, where the melodic lines arrive effortlessly.

Can you name two persons who have influenced you the most in your career?
Jackson Pollock, who, to me, is the Charlie Parker of the painting. By seeing the documentaries and reading about his life, I accepted the fact that the mission of the artist is arduous and painful. Till then, I had many immature fantasies in respect to the music and art.
Also my ex-girlfriend, Dila Galvão, a very beautiful person who was very important in my music. I’m grateful to her for all the energy and joy of life.

Are there any musicians you've never collaborated with, but you'd like to?
Cecil Taylor, whom I almost played with, but never really happened. Both of us played with Dominic Duval, who tried to put us together, but Cecil was a very volatile person and was impossible to predict when he would be up to.
Thelonious Monk is another one. 
And many people might find this a bit weird, but I like Keith Jarrett. When I first moved to Boston, besides the first contact with the jazz in-loco, it was a very impacting experience for me, and I don’t know why but that phase connected with Jarrett’s music and his first records, especially Facing You and The Koln Concert. It’s very beautiful music. He’s still around, but we inhabit very distinct worlds.

What great qualities do you find in your frequent collaborators Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and Joe Morris?
My prolific association with Matthew is because I love to play with him. It’s never tiresome or boring because we always find stimulation to create. He always pokes me and I believe I always poke him too. I think this collaboration will never stop. It’s one of those gifts that the universe generously offers you.
William Parker is a multi-artist, a poet who inspires me even before the recording starts. Recently, I was in the Park West Studios, recording with him, Matthew, Whit Dickey and Bobby Kapp, and from my booth, I could see him playing very close. I couldn’t take my eyes from him. He’s one of those musicians who opens your appetite to play.  
Joe Morris is a bottomless well of creativity. He offers many possibilities since he plays electric and acoustic bass, electric and acoustic guitar, and also mandolin.

If you had to define yourself in one word what would it be?
Researcher. I do that in an almost methodical and scientific way, learning ways of manipulating the sound in order to advance from one layer to another. Like if I was trying to discover the quantum energy of the atoms.

What can people expect from your upcoming performance in quartet (Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, and Whit Dickey) at the Vision Festival? 
This is my third time at Vision and it’s going to be very interesting. This recent tour I did with Matthew was a crucial point for me. It’s not that we expect it to be the same because a duo sounds different than a quartet, but the influence of this recent experience will certainly have a great expression on the show.


Cooper-Moore talks about Vision Festival 22 and his music, NYC

Cooper-Moore at Vision 21, 2016 ©Clara Pereira 

Cooper-Moore at Vision 21, 2016 ©Clara Pereira 

 

Name: Cooper-Moore
Instrument: piano, harp, hand-crafted instruments
Style: avant-garde jazz, contemporary jazz
Projects: Digital Primitives, Black Host, William Parker's In Order to Survive. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American pianist Cooper-Moore will be at the Arts For Art's Vision Festival 22 on May 29th with three different projects. This year the Festival is honoring him with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

You've been a constant presence in the Vision Festival, which by itself is an achievement. 
What does this Festival, and especially this Lifetime Achievement Award, represent to you?

It’s a high honor. It is recognition by some, that during my life I’ve in some way been a contributor to and instrumental in the creation and growth of the communities where I have been a part. Being selected for a lifetime achievement award for this year’s Vision 22 Festival is especially rewarding in that I have always believed in the goals of Arts for Art and the Festival from their beginnings.

Besides Digital Primitives and Gerald Cleaver's Black Host, which are relatively recent projects, you'll be playing with William Parker's In Order to Survive, just like it happened almost 20 years ago in Vision 1. 
What do you think are the main changes both in the festival and in the way you make music? 

Digital Primitives goes back 15 or 16 years, not recent. It happens to be the ensemble with which I have most recorded, toured and performed, of the three that I’ll be performing in on May 29th at Judson Church.
Producing the Festival cost a lot more money. 
It is shorter by half or more. 
The Festival pays better than it did 20 years ago and has, by its pay policy example, been instrumental in increasing the fees that musicians are awarded in some of the newer created festivals in New York City. 
The audiences are older.
I perform with fewer and fewer people. 
I am more efficient in my playing. I know where I want to go when I begin to play. There are people who say, “Come, and let’s take a trip, a musical journey.” They say that they don’t know where the journey will take them or us. That might be how I was in the distant past. But as an elder of the music, that is not how I feel anymore. 

What made you choose avant-garde/free jazz in detriment of bop variations and mainstream?
Avant-garde/free jazz are not terms which I have ever labeled myself. When I was twelve years old and started listening to the music it was labeled progressive. What I do is for me a next step. The music has never stayed the same. It has always moved on, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Labels are often a problem in that they infer judgment, hierarchy, and status.
The music that I play is nearly all blues based. Blues is music that I grew up listening to. In my mid-teens, I heard Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. They were all playing music that was obviously blues based. It was new blues. Teens are always looking for something new. So I started playing from those roots.
  
How tough can be the life of an alternative jazz musician in NY? Any advice for the younger musicians who are giving their first steps? 
I do not consider myself an alternative anything. I am a musician. But your question might suggest that those who follow a more traditional, conservative path, to how the music has grown and progressed, are practicing that which is alternative. What most people listen to is what they are in the habit of listening to. This habit of listening, just like the diet of most folks, is formed early in life and is not easily changed.
But to your questions: Life for any artist in America can be tough. The creative life makes us vulnerable to many of the difficulties of life. The best way to do what you want to do is to hang out with the folks who do what you want to do. Learning from a mentor or in an apprenticeship is the best way to move ahead as a young creative artist. Work on doing what you want to do as much as you can. Be obsessed. 

You not only play a bunch of different instruments but you also design and build them. Where did this passion come from?
Building instruments is not a passion. I build an instrument if an idea for one comes to me that I believe I can make manifest in a short length of time, a day or two. Or I build because I have to replace one that is broken or no longer playable.  

What other styles do you listen to? Tells us your favorite musician for each style.
First, I am my favorite musician.    
I don’t listen to music other than the music that I am creating unless it’s music that I have to learn. Then I drown my ears and my brain in it.

Tell me 2 persons who marked you the most as a musician.
Both were born and raised in Washington DC, where I spent a lot of time: Duke Ellington and Lawrence “Fox” Wheatley 

Tell me 2 musicians whom you've never worked with, but you'd like to.
None


Nick Finzer Interview, NYC

Nick Finzer at Smalls, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

Nick Finzer at Smalls, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

 

Name: Nick Finzer
Instrument: trombone
Style: postbop, contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: The Chase (Origin Records, 2015); Hear & Now (Outside in Music, 2017).

 

 

 

 

Three years separate The Chase from Hear & Now, which feature exactly the same sextet. How often do you guys play together?
We play together a lot, and not just in my group. Most of these guys are part of the tenor player nonet and we play at Smalls once a month. It’s been a crazy couple of years and I think now, more than before, we appreciate the opportunity we have to play together.

What has changed in the process of making those two records?
Recording The Chase was kind of a last minute throwing together. Like, here are the tunes, even if we haven’t played in a while. 
This record was further better planned and I had a better concept about the music. I think it was a little bit more relaxed and I had more time to mature it. Everyone is pretty young and we’re still figuring out how to live (laughs). 

There are some words in the CD booklet that in a certain way try to describe your motivations for this record. I see words like passion, inspiration, and vision, but I also see evolution, action, and change. What do you really mean with these last three?
To me, it’s just about people trying to grow within themselves and kind of being open, having discussions, and allowing for an evolution of thought. It’s also about me trying to allow myself to keep developing and try to actually express opinions rather than just talk around. Voice our opinions and share what we think when people are doing something that’s not beneficial. The record kind of documents the emotional turbulences of 2016, which was when our music was written and recorded. It has to do with the rise and fall of the whole year; all the political, social and environmental stuff is all over in there.

I personally feel some sort of spiritual side on “We, The People”. Are you a spiritual man? 
I don’t know if I’m that spiritual of a person… I’m certainly not religious in any particular way. But for me that composition was trying to embody the energy of people coming together, talking and fighting for what they believe in. It's that power, when people come together, more than any particular spiritual thing. I definitely was going for that high energy.

Your music blends tradition and contemporary jazz. How is this done within your compositional process?
I’m a product of my generation, I think. I came up through jazz education, and the way we learn is through tradition. The first jazz music I heard was Duke Ellington’s music and that always stuck with me. Some of my favorite trombone players come from the 50s and 60s, but we live now, and I love so many composers that wrote stuff between 1970 and now. I think it becomes a natural outcome of having all those influences.
For my compositional process, I always wanted to have those elements of jazz I feel are important: some kind of swing and blues elements thrown in there, but not all the time, and then combine them with the harmonies that are maybe a bit more contemporary, less traditionally bebop. When I write, I try to think about the relationship between the highest pitch and the lowest, the counterpoint between those. To me, the stuff in the middle is more flexible. If it’s strong on the outside you can kind of take some chances and create some interesting inner lines.

What comes first when you compose a tune, the melody or the harmony?
When I first started writing, the chord progression usually came first because I felt once I write the melody I couldn’t come up with “cool” chord changes. But as time went on, after two records and trying to write for a third one, I realize that the tunes that stuck the best were the ones that the melody drove the composition. So, I try to do that first.

Dance of Persistence” is about not giving up. Do you ever thought or think of giving up?
Sure! I try not to, but sometimes it’s rough. Sometimes it feels like people don’t really care about what we’re doing. But then, there are people out there that do care; you just have to find them. The longer you stick with this crazy life in the jazz industry, the more you see its value, and the more you see how to make it work and stick it out.

What was the hardest time of your career?
I have to say I’ve been fairly fortunate that things have gone relatively smoothly for me, but the hardest times have been mostly when things are so crazily busy that I have no time to create anything. It basically happened from the summer of 2014 until the summer of 2016, when I was almost constantly on the road, which is a blessing, but just being super crazy and my personal life being kind of difficult because of being away. But, you know, I just take one day at the time, looking forward and persisting on, as we just talked about.

What do you have to say about that generalized idea that the trombone is neglected in comparison with saxophone or trumpet, for instance?
I think it’s true that we’re not as often used, but trombone players have always been so important. Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, right in the beginning, were driving things forward; also great composers in Ellington’s bands; and we always have had strong presences within the musician community. Sometimes in terms of taking a leadership role, people think the instrument is circus-like or abrasive. But there’s a lot of guys right now who are trying to put the trombone back out there, and in front of a band. People put us to the side sometimes, but it’s our job to kind of show people we can do the same things as any other instrument. It’s just a different voice.

Steve Turre and Wycliffe Gordon were your mentors. Did they bring any influence into your music?
Yeah, I think they both live on my shoulder all the time. I get along very well with both of them and they were super supportive so far, coming to gigs, listening to the stuff, and letting me know when things are not ok.
I would say that Wycliffe has been essential in the way he’s the kind of guy who shows you something and then says: now it’s your turn to figure it out. It’s like a very different learning experience. 
Steve Turre was very hands-on with us. He would say “this is how Dizzy Gillespie showed me how to play this” or “this is how McCoy Tyner showed me how to play this”, trying to connect us with the tradition through himself, who played with these people.

If not a musician, what would you have been?
I wanted to be a baseball player. When I was in the middle school playing for the baseball team, I had a long discussion with my dad, who told me: “you really aren’t very good at that”. Then, I wanted to be a chef for a while, but then I got bit by the music bug and went that way.

What do you picture in your mind when improvising?
I’m not really picturing something but rather listening and trying to contribute by being in the moment and in the music. Sometimes I can try to picture the musical notation when someone is playing.

Which color would you pick to associate with your music?
Maybe purple. With the band and the music, I always try to have a kind of rich color palette, a rich and deep feeling to it, instead of just playing at a surface level. 

Can you name two persons who marked you the most as a musician?
Wynton Marsalis, because he was very honest and clear with me, changing my perception of myself for the better. It was what I needed at that moment. He doesn’t know that or even remember, but to me he was very important.
And probably Steve Turre, who was always super helpful to me… but there’s also a composer called Dave Rivello. He was kind of in the Bob Brookmeyer school, arranging and writing, and I played in his 12-piece band every week when I was an undergrad. He really opened my eyes and ears to what it takes to put your music together and get a gig. He was a great example.

And two musicians you would like to play with?
I‘ve always wanted to play with Chick Corea. There was a time I was obsessed with Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, and I still go back to it all the time.
The other one is also a pianist, Herbie Hancock. The first jazz gig I really played was music from Herbie, so I’ve always wanted to play with him.


David Binney Interview, NYC

David Binney at 55 Bar, 2015  ©Clara Pereira

David Binney at 55 Bar, 2015  ©Clara Pereira

 

Name: David Binney
Instrument: saxophone
Style: postbop, contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Free To Dream (Mythology, 1998); Graylen Epicenter (Mythology, 2011); The Time Verses (Criss Cross, 2017).

 

 

 

 

The Time Verses describes a diurnal cycle. What were your motivations/inspirations for doing it?
It really wasn't about anything. I never compose music based on anything but what sounds good to me. I don't like when, like in the case of these grants people get, one is asked to explain their music and what it represents....  It's not political, it's not about issues, it's not about anything.  It's music. 
It's supposed to be listened to. I wish people would stop needing some other reason for why music exists. It's music. That's what makes it great. 
When people try or need some other narrative, it's weakness on their part. It's the inability to understand music and hear it on a deep level. 
So not to put down your question - it's a valid and normal question, but it hits a nerve with me and gives me an opportunity to actually say something that needs to be said. 
So I only made it seem like a suite and relate by the titles. The music was written outside of that. It's just a way to package it for people who need more than the actual music, to like it. 

All your fans know about your long-time association with the 55 Bar. In "Fifty Five", I spotted glimpses of Wayne Shorter and Sam Rivers and a deliberated swinging pulse that’s not so common in your arrangements. 
Yeah, it's a swing tune. And we do a lot of that at the 55. We always have. So I figured it was time for me to put a tribute to that place and show how important it is. Even for music in NYC. 
Swing is pretty common in my music. If you go through my records you'll see there is a lot of swing. 

Your sound and compositional style are very identifiable in this recording and still, it sounds so distinctive and fresh. What was the special secret for that?
I pay attention to those things. I have always wanted to sound unique. I'm not one to follow the pack. I’m always searching and stretching. I understand how to write and play interesting music. It's what I do and what I love. It's my passion. And it comes naturally to me. Plus, I'm obsessed with it. I listen to everything and often. I know what's happening in almost all music areas. So there's a lot to draw from. 
 
For how long do you play with the members of this quartet and what are their main features that most suits your musical creations?
I've played with Dan Weiss for about 17 years I think, maybe longer. Jacob Sacks for as long, although Matt Mitchell is in the group now. Eivind Opsvik I also have a long history with. They’re all very open and they are like me in their search. And they go for things. So the music is always different and expanding. I like to be in that environment. 
They also all have very unique sounds. And they think compositionally. I like that. 
 
Do you have everything planned and structured in advance before going to the studio or are you open to spontaneous creativity on the spot?
I have the framework. And then that is left open to whatever happens. The writing part of my music is usually pretty strictly adhered to and then everyone is free to do whatever they want during improvisations. I like that balance. 
 
"Seen" is a song that easily conquers the ear due to its deeply soulful approach. What is this song about and how did this collaboration with Jen Shyu happen?
It's a very old song of mine. We have been playing it for years but we just ever got around to recording it. 
Jen heard it years ago and loved it. She always wanted to write lyrics to it. So she did and we recorded it. I love the way she sings it and it's just one of those magical collaborations. She's great. 

Your solos are both striking and emotional. If in a particular circumstance you had to choose between technique and emotion, what would you choose to drop first?
Well, technique. It's not about technique. It's just that the more technique I possess, the more possibilities there are. I have always liked the balance between technique and emotion. I like Salvador Dali for instance, or Stravinsky, Bird, Coltrane, Beatles… well just about everyone that does something great. They usually have some high degree of both. 
 
What do you picture in your mind while you’re improvising? 
Sound. Shape. Interaction. The conversation. The moment. That's really all I think about. 
 
Are you constantly in a creative process or do you feel you have to stop for a while in order to find new inspirations?
I'm constantly thinking about creating. I find inspiration along the way. I really don't stop. 
 
Can you briefly describe the hardest moment of your career?
This interview. Hahaha, no, I’m kidding. I like this interview! 
The hardest thing for me, to be honest, is just that I've been such a part of the scene and an inspiration to so many and been on the forefront with composition and playing, and it's hard for me to even get gigs or work sometimes. And yet, I see many people whose lives I influenced, or in many cases even changed, and they are out there doing well while I mostly struggle along. I know the deal. It's that way for a lot of people who innovate in some way, and usually, it comes back to them in later years, but it can be frustrating. 
I mean, I single-handedly put together and created the band that David Bowie used for Blackstar, a huge and important record. That was a group I was going to use on my record at the time, but I gave it up to Donny [McCaslin] because I was producing his record and wanted to get more production work. I knew that it would fit his record and my vision perfectly. And yet, the press completely buried me in that discussion. Donny didn't even want to do electric music. It was my suggestion. I picked the musicians and sculpted the sound, working my ass off on those records. David Bowie heard it and flipped out. He took it and used it for his record and I got completely cut out of the story. How does that happen? I should be getting all kinds of producing work right now. 
I understand production as well as anyone. It's so obvious to me when I hear music, any kind of music, to be able to tell what it needs to make it better. The lives of the guys in the band are changed because what I did. And I'm pretty much in the same place. That's difficult. But again, probably this is not unusual in an artist’s story.  
The other thing that is a bit of a difficult thing is how influential I've been not only as a player but also as a composer. I've never once showed up in any poll as a composer and yet half the things I hear out there from a certain generation of people sounds liked stuff I did years ago. And they know it, and some even admit it. But the outside world and the music business, don't acknowledge it - sometimes a difficult pill to swallow. 
I'm also a great teacher and a very strong influential motivational person for young musicians and people in general and yet have never been offered a teaching position or anything that much lesser musicians have been given. 
The world is so based on perception and selling and bullshit that the truth gets buried. And on purpose! People protect their positions in all aspects of life so hard. I've always been way more giving, but with that can come frustration when you see that very few people are the same way. 
Haha that wasn't "brief", I guess!

If not a musician, what would you have been?
Probably a writer. 
 
You’re also a very in-demand producer. Besides Donny McCaslin, you've recently worked with Quinsin Nachoff whose album was released on your label, Mythology.
How was the experience and how difficult is managing a record label today?

Well, I talked a lot about the Donny recordings above. 
I didn't produce Quinsin's record but put it out in my label, which these days just consists of letting someone use the Label logo and reputation. I did nothing else but play in the record. I did however produce and release Philippe Côté's fine recording Lungta. If you haven't heard that, check it out. I'm very proud of that one. Both the production and the way I played on it. 

Can you point 2 musicians you have collaborated with and marked you the most, and 2 more you’ve never collaborated but you would like to.
Well, I'd say Dan Weiss and maybe Brian Blade as far as people that have shaped my sound and executed my vision in a way that I could not have come up with on my own. 
I've never collaborated on a project with Kurt Rosenwinkel and that seems like a natural to me. We're talking now about something.  And maybe Manfred Eicher.  I'd like to record a record for ECM. I mean my music is a natural fit there. I know more about that label than pretty much anyone. It was an important part of my upbringing and so many of those records influenced my music and the way I hear things. It would just be a satisfying thing, to do a record for them. 
 
Are you currently working on new projects or have any new ideas in mind?
Yeah, as I said, I have in mind something with Kurt [Rosenwinkel]. With Louis Cole, a young Brazilian musician who is in Kurt’s Caipi band named Pedro Martins, and I don't know who the bass player would be… but it would be cool to have M'shell Ndegeocello and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet. Kind of a modern funk band with horns, two guitars, vocals, and crazy solos. Just an idea at this point, but I've already talked to Kurt, Louis, and Pedro about it, and everyone is in so far. 


Aaron Diehl Interview, NYC

Aaron Diehl, photo by © Ingrid Hertfelder (used with permission)

Aaron Diehl, photo by © Ingrid Hertfelder (used with permission)

 

Name: Aaron Diehl
Instrument: piano
Style: postbop, contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: The Bespoke Man's Narrative (Mack Avenue, 2013); Space Time Continuum (Mack Avenue, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

Tells us one adjective that accurately describes you.
Realist.

If you weren't a musician, what would you have been?
Airline pilot.

What do you picture in your mind while improvising? 
The finish line.

Which color would you pick to associate with your music and why?
Chartreuse… I don’t know - I just like the drink.

Tell me two persons who marked you the most as a musician. 
Benny Golson and Wynton Marsalis.

And two musicians whom you've never worked with but you'd love to.
Ron Carter and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (conductor)

Can you briefly describe the hardest moment of your career?
That’s every day! Nothing is guaranteed. But this is also what drives me.

You are going to perform at Greenwich House on April 27 with pianist Dan Tepfer for the Uncharted concert series. How did this collaboration with Dan come up? 
Dan suggested the idea of performing duo piano for a performance at Bard College in October 2015. I’ve had a lot of respect for Dan’s musicianship, so I was very excited at the prospect of this collaboration.

Is it a challenge to play with another pianist?
Yes, because you are dealing with two instruments of the same timbre, with a wide tonal range. It would be like placing two symphony orchestras on stage, with two conductors. With two pianists, extra care has to be taken in playing within certain registers. Adding syncopation on top of that, each pianist has to be sensitive to one another’s sense of time.

On what other projects are you working right now?
I’m preparing for debuts with the Cleveland Orchestra (Gershwin’s Concerto in F) and LA Philharmonic (Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” Variations) this summer. 


Dayna Stephens Interview, NYC

Dayna Stephens, © Gulnara Khamatova (used with permission)

Dayna Stephens, © Gulnara Khamatova (used with permission)

 

Name: Dayna Stephens
Instrument: saxophone, EWI
Style: postbop, contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: That Nepenthetic Place (Sunnyside, 2013); Peace (Sunnyside, 2014); Gratitude (Contagious Music, 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

Tells us one adjective that can accurately describe you.
Lucky

If you weren't a musician, what would you have been?
Car Designer, most designs are hideous (lol).

What do you picture in your mind when you're improvising?
Bouncing circles.

Which color would you pick to associate with your music and why?
If I had to pick just one it would be green because it signifies life to me, blue would be a tie or close second.

Tell me two persons who marked you the most as a musician.
Sonny Rollins and Brad Mehldau.

And two musicians whom you've never worked with but you'd love to.
These answers would differ from day to day. I would love to work with Jack DeJohnette and Kurt Rosenwinkel, perhaps at the same time!

Can you briefly describe the hardest moment of your career?
Selling my baritone saxophone (my favorite saxophone voice) to move to NYC.

Besides gratitude, what other messages do you intend to convey with this new album?
Gratitude is also an attempt to exemplify a universal beauty with the goal of creating space for common ground and stronger connections in a time of increased fragmentation. 

Any other projects in mind at the moment or for a near future?
If limited to four burners: a project featuring the EWI and more (not necessarily taking a “fusion” approach), Big Band (long overdue), a traditional Quartet (featuring standards), a Sextet with 3 horns (featuring original compositions). Lots more in the oven, though.


Ben Monder Interview, NYC

            Ben Monder, 2015, NYC ©Clara Pereira

            Ben Monder, 2015, NYC ©Clara Pereira

 

Name: Ben Monder
Instrument: guitar
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Excavation (Arabesque, 2000); Hydra (Sunnyside, 2013); Amorphae (ECM, 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

Can you tell me one adjective that better describe your personality?
Mumpish.

If you weren't a musician, what would you have been?
There honestly wasn't a backup plan.
 
What do you picture in your mind when you're improvising?
Armageddon. 

Which color would you pick to associate with your music and why?
Periwinkle, my favorite crayola crayon.

Tell me two persons who marked you the most as a musician. 
Irwin Stahl, who instilled important musical values at an early age, and Chuck Wayne, who was the best possible jazz guitar teacher.

And two musicians whom you've never worked with but you'd love to.
I would love to work with Jack DeJohnette and Wayne Shorter, but I'd settle for coffee.

Can you briefly describe the hardest moment of your career?
Maybe the winter (in 1989) I spent working Wednesday through Saturday in a lounge band for $240 a week, commuting from Queens to New Rochelle, all the while convinced I had ball cancer.

Besides jazz, what other styles do you listen to? Tell me your favorite musician(s) for each style you mention.
Metal (Meshuggah, Defeated Sanity, Devourment, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum); Classical (Luigi Nono, Helmut Lachenmann, Georg Friedrich Hass, Bernard Parmegiani).

Any other projects in mind?
My next record will be a recording of cover tunes done in trio and solo guitar arrangement.