John Escreet Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

 John Escreet, 2018 ©Clara Pereira

John Escreet, 2018 ©Clara Pereira

Name: John Escreet
Instrument: piano, keyboards
Style: modern creative
Album Highlights: Don’t Fight The Inevitable (Mythology, 2010), Sound Space and Structures (Sunnyside, 2014), Learn To Live (BRM Records, 2018)

Your latest album is a fusion of genres. Avant-garde jazz, funk, rock, and electronic music are discernible. Who are your main references for each style?
I have so many different influences from across the musical spectrum, that I try and distill into my own personal vision. I really don't like to categorize them so specifically. I draw inspiration from Cecil Taylor, Evan Parker, Herbie Hancock, Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, George Duke, Autechre, Messaien... there's just way too many to mention.

Explain how and when the idea of incorporating two drummers playing simultaneously came up?
Well, I had never done a recording of my own before with two drummers, although I had played and recorded a couple of times in that setting and always loved being in the middle of two drummers. Initially, the recording was supposed to be quartet with Osby, Brewer, and Harland. We had performed in Langnau, Switzerland the previous summer and the concert was killing, so I had originally intended to document that. Fast forward to early February 2018 a couple of weeks before the recording session, I had this weekend engagement at The Jazz Gallery in New York, leading a group made up of myself, Nicholas Payton, Matt Brewer and Justin Brown. Those gigs were wild too!!! So I figured that as I had a recording coming up soon, it would make no sense to leave them off it. They were now familiar with all the music and I really wanted them to be involved too. So I just decided to have everybody take part in the recording. The thought of Harland and Justin playing together excited me immensely... two of the baddest dudes playing drums today, both supreme musicians. They had never played together before but I knew they had mutual admiration for each other. I was never in any doubt that it would be anything less than amazing.

This album, made of composed material, is completely different from the previous two (with John Hebert, Tyshawn Sorey, and Evan Parker), where free improvisation dominates. Did you feel this was the right time to change direction?
Honestly, I don't see it in terms of 'changing direction.' I've done many previous albums where the music has been more composed. It's something I've always done and have always continued to do. Even when I had the completely improvised project with Hébert, Tyshawn and Evan I was still writing and trying out music in other groups. I've always continued to compose. I just chose to document something else for the past couple of albums. You eventually come to see it all as the same thing: good music that you hope will engage the listener and move the audience. The essence is the same, it's just the delivery method that changes.

You're also busy as a sideman, touring recently with Jamie Baum Septet+ and now with Antonio Sanchez Migration. How do you feel about these projects in general and your contribution in particular?
I enjoy both of those projects and feel that I am able to musically be myself in both groups. That's very important, to have your personal contribution appreciated as opposed to just "filling the piano chair." Jamie's music is very thru-composed and extremely intricate and has a lot of world music influences. I only play acoustic piano in that group. Antonio's band is a lot of fun and I've been doing it for a number of years. The music is a lot more electric, and I play Rhodes/effects as well as piano. We play his long-form compositions which can really go into some other territories - it can be loud, and feels more like a rock concert at times, which I totally dig!

How do you see the jazz scene today? Any idea to make it better?
The scenes need to integrate more and be more open to one another. That would make it a lot better if people were willing to learn from outside their immediate musical circles and be a bit more open-minded. Also, people need to be kinder to one another, but at the same time be more diligent. Bullshit needs to be always called out. Masters and mentors need to be acknowledged while they are still with us, not after they have passed. Promoters need to have integrity and foster the longevity of real music, not just succumb to the latest short-lived fads. Those are just a few things that would help nurture and grow the jazz scene in my opinion.

With titles like "Broken Justice (Kalief)", "A World Without Guns" and "Humanity Please" you seem very conscious about our world's problems. Tells us more about these pieces as well as your compositional process.
"Broken Justice" was inspired by the tragic story of Kalief Browder. It was actually a completely improvised piece in the studio which I titled afterwards. The music seemed to really fit the mood of how I felt about his situation at the time.
"A World Without Guns" is more of a reflective, meditative piece. The United States has a unique gun epidemic that is dangerously out of control, but guns also cause misery and violence all around the world. Just imagining a world without any of it seems like such a far-fetched thing, but at the same time it just seems so obvious and makes so much sense.
"Humanity Please" is just the vamp section of the same tune, which we expanded upon... hence the similar titles which are in a way interchangeable.
As for my compositional process, well that depends, and tunes often evolve over the course of several performances, as was the case on the new album. Everyone in the band had played most of the music at some point over the course of a few gigs. There were, however, a couple of tunes that were brand new, that I just brought into the studio on the day. We rehearsed them real quick and then recorded them right off the bat... those tunes were "Opening" and "Test Run", hence the title.

Can you tell me two persons who have influenced you the most as a musician?
Tyshawn Sorey and David Binney.

And two persons whom you've never collaborated with but you'd like to.
Bill Frisell and Stevie Wonder.

What was the first jazz record you fell in love with?
Keith Jarrett at the Deer Head Inn, and Sarah Vaughn at Mr Kelly's are two of the earliest ones I remember... there's many.

What would you have been if not a musician?
Not sure, but something that involves traveling and seeing the world.

Andy Sheppard Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

 Andy Sheppard, photo by ©Sara da Costa

Andy Sheppard, photo by ©Sara da Costa

Name: Andy Sheppard
Instrument: tenor and soprano saxophones
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Soft On The Inside (Antilles, 1991), Surrounded By Sea (ECM, 2015), Romaria (ECM, 2018)

// While touring in Europe, British saxophonist Andy Sheppard took some time to do this brief, funny interview with us.//

In October you're going to perform at AngraJazz Festival in the Azores, Portugal. Will you be playing music from Romaria, exclusively?
We will be playing mainly music from Romaria but also some tunes from the preceding album, Surrounded by Sea, and some new music...

Is it your first time on the island?
It's my second visit. I played a few years ago with Carla Bley and Steve Swallow.

Renato Teixeira's "Romaria" was part of my childhood. How did you come across the song?
My wife played me a version by Elis Regina; she has beautiful ears (well they both do...) She knew the melody would inspire me. I introduced it to the band as an encore on a gig and it stuck in our repertoire...

Besides jazz, what other styles do you listen to? Who are your favorites for each style?
I try and keep my ears open to all musics. Some days I don't get beyond the birds and cicadas in my garden - they can sound so good... Chet Baker’s singing always hits as does Coltrane’s sound, and I love just about all the music pouring out of Norway right now.

Who influenced you the most in jazz?
I guess the people who've influenced me the most are all the amazing musicians I've been lucky to work with - I'm 61, so it's a very long list - but of course Gil Evans, George Russell, Carla Bley and Rita Marcotulli stick out.

Can you name two persons whom you've never collaborated with but you'd like to?
I'd love to do something with Jan Bang and also in a different dimension John Scofield…

When did you realize you wanted to be a professional musician?
I decided to become a professional musician the moment I heard John Coltrane. It was an instant decision - I was 18 years old ...

Besides touring in Europe, are you currently working on some other project?
Fixing my garden ... it seems an unending task. I'm also writing new music for the quartet and thinking of starting a new project in New York ... Or at least something with that kind of edge to it.

Darcy James Argue Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

 Darcy James Argue ©Lindsay Beyerstein

Darcy James Argue ©Lindsay Beyerstein

Name: Darcy James Argue
Instrument: composer/conductor/arranger
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam, 2009), Brooklyn Babylon (New Amsterdam, 2013), Real Enemies (New Amsterdam, 2016)

How excited are you with the Azores and AngraJazz Festival?
I’m very excited about this performance in the Azores. This is a part of the world that I’ve never seen. Some of the musicians of Secret Society have never even heard about it — it’s such a remote location! I’ll be sticking around one day after the performance to explore Terceira Island — I’m very excited.

I know you are sort of connected to Portugal since you’ve been working with Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos.
Yes, I worked with Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos a few years ago and we performed also last year at the Guimarães Jazz Festival. Those were tremendous experiences. I love Portugal and I love the audiences there. Taking Secret Society to AngraJazz, it will mark the third time I’m involved in a project in Portugal.

What should the audience expect from Secret Society at AngraJazz? Are you guys drawing exclusively from the latest album Real Enemies?
No. When we played in Guimarães, we actually performed all 13 chapters of Real Enemies, from beginning to end, a concert version of that project. I realized that anyone who went to see us last year at Guimarães might go see us again at AngraJazz, so I thought it would be better to present a different program. I understand this is a different kind of festival, so we’re playing a different kind of program. It will be music drawn from all three of our previous recordings: Real Enemies, Brooklyn Babylon and Infernal Machines, and some unrecorded work, including a piece that was recently commissioned by the New England Conservatory for its 150th anniversary. They asked me to write a piece honoring my compositional mentor, Bob Brookmeyer. The piece, called “Wingèd Beasts”, was premiered with the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra, and Secret Society has also performed it a couple of times since then. AngraJazz will be next.

On your album Real Enemies you addressed a set of conspiracy theories, alerting the world for deceit, mistrust, and fear. Two years have passed since the album's release and some things have changed. How do you see the world today?
You know, it’s interesting. The project premiered as a multimedia work in November of 2015 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. So at that time that we wrote it, my co-creators and I were skeptical: Is this going to be relevant? Is anyone going to be interested in conspiracy theories and political paranoia used as a weapon? Is anyone going to be interested in how people in power exploit conspiratorial thinking to divide the people? Unfortunately, it has turned out that those questions have become very, very salient right now. I guess it was predictive in certain ways about the direction our politics would take. So, it obviously feels very different to perform that music today. I hope that we can push back these disturbing global trends, the rise of far-right, anti-immigration, paranoid politics all over the world.

What about the music business? Are you happy with it?
I don’t think anyone is! It’s very hard, you know. There have been an enormous number of changes all over. I don’t know if you heard that the Danish broadcasting radio just canceled their jazz station, which also affects the Danish Radio Big Band. It has been such a cultural institution, both the band and the radio station, and to have the current right-wing government cut jazz broadcasts entirely is just a real blow to that nation. And we’re seeing similar dynamics all over. In the US, jazz radio and other cultural institutions are really struggling. Some people feel it doesn’t matter, because instead of radio, nowadays people listen to Spotify and other streaming options. I’m a sort of an old-school person, and I think that radio, word of mouth, and live concerts are still the best ways to build your audience. Especially in a live performance, this can be really transformative. Secret Society just made our debut at the Chicago Jazz Festival a couple of weeks ago, and we had such an incredibly responsive audience! So many people came to me after the gig saying: “I had no idea who you were but that was amazing! It was such a tremendous concert!” Being able to connect with people, live, who had never heard the band before is an amazing opportunity for us. We hope it continues happening!

What are the main challenges of conducting an 18-piece big band?
Beyond the economic challenges of getting that many people on the road, the musical challenges are… well, you know, you have 18 very different personalities, and as a composer and as a conductor, you’ve got to find ways to include everyone’s individual skills, but in a way that creates a collective purpose, in a way where everyone is able to contribute toward the whole. But when things go wrong? (laughs) Well, as a conductor it is your job to try to keep things flowing in the right direction as best as you can. That’s the excitement of conducting the band.

What do you first seek in a musician before you hire them?
If one of my regular co-conspirators in Secret Society is unavailable for a rehearsal or performance, it gives me the opportunity to ask someone from the New York jazz community to join us for a rehearsal and see how they do. It’s not an easy thing because the music is very challenging. Often, the musicians are working extremely hard, but that work is invisible! If all goes well, it just sounds very natural, and even the most difficult passages sound easy and effortless. So, it requires a very selfless type of musician to be involved in something like that. It’s not for everyone! There are a lot of great musicians who are more interested in projects that give them a lot more liberty and room for improvisation, where the structure of the piece might be variable and moving in different directions. I love that music, it’s great, but that’s not what I really do with Secret Society, which is much more compositional. So I look for musicians well adapted to reading and interpreting notated music and who are willing to come on board to help deliver the kind of compositional narrative that I’m trying to construct. Not every musician wants that! But I’ve been very fortunate in having great musicians respond to that, who are very engaged and excited to be part of it. María Grand is a wonderful young tenor saxophone player who has just released a brilliant debut album, Magdalena. She will be joining us for the first time at AngraJazz - we have inducted her as a co-conspirator!

Which are your 3 favorite big band records?
You realize that this is an impossible question? (laughs) But... I’m going to say Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder. I’m going to cheat a bit and use a box-set of five CDs, The Complete Solid State Recordings of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. The last one… it’s really hard... but I would say Kenny Wheeler’s Music For Large & Small Ensembles.

Who influenced you the most in your career?
Certainly, Bob Brookmeyer was the biggest influence on me. I wouldn’t be the composer I am today if it weren’t for Bob.

Any new project at the moment?
Before leaving for AngraJazz, literally a week before, I’ll be premiering this big new collaboration with the amazing singer Cécile McLorin Salvant. She has written an original song cycle called Ogresse, which is really a tremendous piece of music. I’ve orchestrated this song cycle for a chamber ensemble with two winds, two brass, mallet percussion, rhythm section, and string quartet. It’s been a real pleasure to work with Cécile on this and to work with a different group of musicians, most of whom I haven’t worked with before. It’s a whole new, almost symphonic palate, and a whole new set of personalities. With an arranging project like this, I’m really trying to serve Cécile’s songs and guarantee her intentions. I tried to be as true as possible to her vision by bringing out what each individual song in the cycle wants to be. It’s a rewarding experience for me as an arranger because it forces me to think about the music from the perspective of another composer. Cécile is such an incredible musician and thinker who has a complete, mature vision for this project. I think it will have a very big impact!

Could you be anything else rather than a musician?
I wish I could, because then life would be a lot easier (laughs). But I don’t think so.

Jamie Baum Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

 Jamie Baum, 2018 ©Clara Pereira

Jamie Baum, 2018 ©Clara Pereira

 

 

 

Name: Jamie Baum
Instrument: flute
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Solace (Sunnyside, 2008), InThis Life (Sunnyside, 2013), Bridges (Sunnyside, 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

Where does your music fall genre-wise? There is something in your music that completely falls out of the mainstream, but the tradition is still there.
It doesn’t fall in categories. I’ve frequently found that the ‘free’ musicians tend to think my music is straight-ahead because I favor melody and harmony, and the ‘straight-ahead’ people think my music is out because I have a lot of different influences in it. I think my music falls in between, which makes it challenging. It seems that before we had the scenes, I mean, there was the up-town straight-ahead scene and then there was the downtown scene. Thankfully, in the last ten years or so we have places like The Jazz Gallery and Cornelia Street Cafe that sort of bridge the gap between the two. I actually have done things in both scenes though. I’ve played in projects of Wadada Leo Smith, Anthony Braxton, and Graham Haynes, but then I’ve done stuff with the Jaki Byard project, and other more straight-ahead groups. You know, I studied with Jaki Byard for two years while I was at the New England Conservatory, and for someone like him, those boundaries didn’t exist!

How do you manage your time in terms of composing and playing? 
I got my masters degree at the Manhattan School of Music in jazz composition, so I've always seen myself doing both and one feeds the other. Because I make my living mostly playing, though would love to have more opportunities with commissions and people hiring me to write, most of the writing I’ve done has been for my band. And so, I really have made my living more from playing rather than people hiring me to write. Also, the flute is much more similar to trumpet than saxophone in the sense that I need to practice a lot every day just to keep my chops together. It’s very demanding. If I’m touring or if I have a lot of work for other people’s gigs or if I’m organizing tours for my band, I don’t often have as much time as I want and my first priority is always practicing. For example, in the last few months, I didn’t have much time to write since I’ve been trying to organize tours to promote the Bridges CD, but I did a lot of writing before that during the past three or four years. After I got the Guggenheim Award in 2014, because it was a nice chunk of money (laughs), it really gave me freedom time-wise, so I didn’t have to worry much about money. Also, since I got the award I thought… gosh, now you really have to get writing!  Which is something I, of course, wanted to do anyway. 
Another thing I learned while working towards my master’s degree in composition was how to just write every day. I’d have to just sit down and come up with something. I think most people have this misconception about composing that you need to be inspired all the time. People talk about the writer’s block and I don’t really believe in that. I think the writer’s block comes more from having too high expectations of yourself when you think you have to write something amazing and unique, and that’s just too much pressure.

Can you tell me about your compositional process?
Most of the time I sit down at the piano, I noodle around and come up with an idea. Then, I put that idea in a sequencing program called Digital Performer, which really changed my life so I can hear my ideas in 'realtime'. Maybe I come up with four or eight bars first, which is the inspiration, and the rest is hard work. I try to be very organic about it when developing the ideas.

I know you wrote “Joyful Lament” with Brad Shepik’s guitar in mind. Do you always take the musicians’ sound into consideration when you write a tune?
Well, I have had this instrumentation since 1999 except adding guitar. And of course, having Amir [ElSaffar] singing is kind of new, just like some of the percussion. Usually, I have this instrumentation and A concept in mind. When I was doing “Joyful Lament” I didn’t necessarily know, right away, it was for Brad. It was more like I heard this melody I really love and thought I could really do something with it. Developing it made clear to me what kind of piece it was going to be. For some other pieces, I really wanted to create a connection to the written material and also to create different sections in a piece that would use different parts of the composition for improvisation - so, maybe one solo might use the bass line, another solo might use a motif, a different solo section might use some of the harmonies. It’s like if you checked out a piece by Mozart or another classical composer, you hear the presentation of the idea and then the development, there’s the connection of using that material. Also, it maintains the interest both of the musicians and the listener if the solos are changing and the colors are changing. I had been wanting to write something to feature the French horn, and when I wrote the last movement of The Shiva Suite, Contemplation, I thought about Chris Komer's beautiful sound. Something about that French horn sound is very yearning and wistful, so I really thought it would enhance what I was trying to say with the piece.

What do you have to say about sexism in jazz? Did you find any difficulties in your path to become a renowned bandleader?
I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t experienced it. It’s just a matter if they want to talk about it or not. When I went to New England conservatory many years ago I was probably one of three or four female instrumentalists in the jazz program during the whole time I was there. But things have changed quite a bit. I’ve talked to some of my friends who, as myself, have been around for a long time, and we appreciate that younger women are noticing it and talking about it. Back then, we realized that if we wanted to do what we do, we would have to work really hard and be twice as good. We didn’t feel we had this option to talk about it in the same way this climate now fosters, so we chose to focus on the music and try not to think about it. If you ask other women who have been around for many years like Claire Daly, Roberta Piket, Jane Ira Bloom, or Jane Bunnett, I think they will probably say the same thing.

Which are your main influences?
I really go through phases. When I started playing music I was very influenced by classical music - Stravinsky, Bach, Ives, Mozart, Bartok. I played a lot of classical music on flute. I also listened to jazz, rock, and blues. In terms of jazz Though, the biggest influences were probably Miles and Coltrane. In terms of flute, very early on, was Eric Dolphy, Roland Kirk, and Hubert Laws, with whom I studied for a little bit. Regarding world music: on my latest album, I added a disclaimer paragraph because I wanted to be clear that I’m not trying to write in that style. I’ve played with many people, toured to Nepal and India and learned about that music, but didn’t really study it in depth. For example, Amir actually went to Iraq and he did very specific studying. So, for me, it’s more that I just love that music and have listened to it a lot. Also, I did grow up in the Jewish religious tradition. I went to Hebrew school and studied Jewish music and prayer when I was very young for several years, so I do have that in my ear, which is very similar to Maqam as is some of the approach of the scales and embellishment of the notes in Indian music, like that of the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

What have you been listening to lately?
These days, I listen to a lot of what my peers are doing. There are so many musicians doing great things, you know? A couple nights ago I went to 55 Bar to see David Binney, with whom I recorded in the 90s on his CD Free to Dream. I have been into his music since. I love what Kneebody does; they are always interesting. Also Kendrick Lamar, whose music had some influence on the first track on Bridges, “From the Well”. It’s just dizzying how much great music with so many different meters and influences is coming out these days. 

How do you see the jazz scene nowadays? 
It’s always very strange to me when people say that jazz is dead. I’m certainly all for people keeping the jazz tradition alive, if that’s something people are passionate about. It’s like keeping Mozart, Bach or Stravinsky alive. It’s amazing music and important to do that. But if you look throughout the history of jazz, or classical music even, the composers were moving the music forward. You look at Dizzy Gillespie and Latin music, Stan Getz and Bossa Nova, Charlie Parker with strings, Coltrane with Indian music influence or Miles with rock. It’s all about bringing your influences into the music and growing.

What were the first jazz records you fell in love with?
When I was growing up, my parents were into Frank Sinatra. And they had Frank Sinatra with Count Basie, who made some amazingly swinging albums. And my older brother had the Miles Davis Quintet’s albums - Cookin’, Steamin', Workin’, and Relaxin’. Also, the Coltrane/ Ellington and Far Cry by Eric Dolphy recordings.

Can you name 2 persons whom you’ve never collaborated with but you would like to? 
There’s this amazing French flute player called Magic Malik. The first time I heard him was on a recording of Steve Coleman, maybe around 2003 or 2004. He just totally blew my mind.
Ambrose Akinmusire is another one. He has this phenomenal recording The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint and I really admire him so much. A "pipe dream” would be to play with Herbie Hancock.

What would you have been if not a musician?
I would love to travel the world like chef Anthony Bourdain did and go to all these different countries to try the best traditional restaurants that no one would know about, except the locals. More importantly, what he did was really connect with the people there and try to understand their culture and point of view. To me, he always had the best job. One of the things I love about being a musician is being able to travel and cross cultures. Maybe that’s why I bring so many influences into my music.

You said you are preparing a new tour for the Septet+. Where are you guys heading to?
In September we’re playing at the Monterey Jazz Festival and Redwood Jazz Alliance in Arcata, Northern California. We’re going to be at Roulette in Brooklyn too. Then, at the beginning of November, we play in Europe at Tampere Jazz Happening in Finland and in Bimhuis, Amsterdam, and then Germany and Madrid also. After that, we will be at the London Jazz Festival and Jazztopad in Poland.

Jane Ira Bloom Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

 Jane Ira Bloom, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

Jane Ira Bloom, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

 

Name: Jane Ira Bloom
Instrument: soprano saxophone
Style: avant-garde jazz, post-bop
Album Highlights: Like Silver, Like Song (Artistshare, 2005), Early Americans (Outline, 2016), Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (Outline, 2017)

 

 

 

Your latest album, Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson, was inspired by the 19th-Century American poet Emily Dickinson. Which aspects of her work most attract you?
The abstract quality of her word choice, the alternation of rhythmic and legato phrasing,
the way she creates imaginative metaphors by linking up words from different universes….it all feels very musical to me and similar to improvisers’ thought processes.

On April 13th, you will perform at the Baruch Performance Arts Center in NY with the same members that recorded the album. What are the qualities you most admire in your bandmates and what can people expect from this performance?
They are all mature composer/ performers with years of experience as bandleaders. That brings an enormous amount of maturity to the choices that they make when they’re improvising. And the accumulated time that we have spent playing together brings a depth to what we can achieve as a group. It’s really special to play and develop a repertoire of music with improvisers who know each other that well. Each performance is like an opportunity to surprise our ears. 

Being a multi-awarded saxophonist and prominent female figure in the current jazz scene, what do you have to say about sexism in jazz?
Being a musician is a life-long journey and it’s always good to keep your eye on the larger arc of things. Thinking like that can help you both hold to your vision and keep perspective on the times that challenge you.

Your style attains a perfect integration of avant-jazz and traditional elements. Who inspires you in both currents?
I gravitate towards exploration, curiosity, and imagination wherever I see it…whether it’s in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, the expressionist paintings of Jackson Pollock, the figure skating of Torvill & Dean, or the solo improvisations of Sonny Rollins.

When did you realize you wanted to become a professional musician?
I always knew I was a musician but it wasn’t until the end of my senior year in college that I knew that I couldn’t do anything but music as a profession. It chose me.

What was the first jazz album you fell in love with? 
Hard to remember….

Which other styles do you listen to?
I like listening to all kinds of music where I can sense an authentic voice. I often hear new things that my students bring into class. I’ve been full-time faculty at the New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music in NYC for twenty years and hearing music that interests them helps keep my ears fresh.

What would you change in the current music business? 
I think more women in positions of power in the recording and jazz festival/ arts presentation sector could make a big difference toward gender equity in the jazz world.

If not a musician, what would you have been?
Have always been fascinated with theatrical lighting design. 

Projects for the future?
I look forward to some upcoming performances with my quartet at the Iowa City Jazz Festival in June and The Monterey Jazz Festival in September. WBGO FM is also going to record a live performance of Wild Lines for later broadcast. I’ll be playing with composer Sarah Weaver’s Ensemble at the DiMenna Center (NYC) on June 8th performing in real time with bassist Mark Dresser’s group in San Diego and a Korean ensemble in Seoul.
Have been thinking about musical ideas that would work well recorded in surround sound. Since receiving the 2018 Grammy for Early Americans for Best Surround Sound Album I’ve been interested in composing music that has possibilities in that direction. Not really sure what the next project is going to be yet but that’s the whole fun of it.

Rudresh Mahanthappa Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

 Rudresh Mahanthappa, 2015 ©Clara Pereira

Rudresh Mahanthappa, 2015 ©Clara Pereira

 

 

Name: Rudresh Mahanthappa
Instrument: alto saxophone
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Black Water (Red Giant Records, 2002), Bird Calls (ACT, 2015), Agrima (self produced, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your playing is so powerful. Where does that energy come from? What inspires you?
I don’t know. Many players have this energy, they just manifest it differently. I think Charlie Parker and Coltrane had that same energy. Also Michael Brecker, Steve Grossman, Bunky Green, these other people I really like, they also have that sort of energy you say. I think it’s where it comes from.

What do you picture in your mind while improvising?
I don’t think I picture anything, I’m just trying to react to what’s happening around me. Trying to be in the moment and listen the best I can, not only to the people around me but also to myself, and then try to build something as an improviser that has compositional weight, fortitude, strength, and cohesion.

Agrima, Indo-Pak Colatition's second album, was self produced and is only available as a digital download and vinyl. Why did you produce it yourself and why the option of not including CD?
Not many people are listening to CDs, I mean, there’s an older crowd that enjoys having a CD but… you know, I’ve been teaching at Princeton, I direct the jazz program there, and I don’t think any of my students has a CD player. The only time I seemed to get a CD is when somebody sends me one. Even the latest models of cars don’t have CD players, so, you know, I don’t want to say it’s a dated model but it didn’t really seem worthwhile. 
As far as self producing goes, the vinyl is just a beautiful package, it’s a double LP with a gatefold, and a lot of thought went into it. It’s a nice thing that you would want to have in your home. I would rather have those in my garage than two thousand CDs. And we’re selling download cards also. I have these two skinny boxes, each with about sixteen inches long, that hold two thousand download cards. Besides that, it was a kind of an experiment too. What happens if you don’t release a CD? Are people still going to buy it?

Your usage of electronic effects to manipulate the sound of your saxophone is a novelty here. How do you feel about it? 
It’s funny because a lot of people think this was my first time with electronics, but I did an album called Samdhi, back in 2011, that was actually really heavy with the electronics and audio processing. So, this is definitely not my first time with electronics, but it’s something I really want to get back to. In this particular setting and instrumentation with Indo-Pak Coalition, it really helps feel the sound, and because we go for a more rock aesthetic with this project, I think it has come to that as well, sonically.

What are the qualities you most admire in your trio mates, Rez Abbasi and Dan Weiss?
I don’t even know where to start… They are both incredibly versatile and very well listened. They have unique personalities, both virtuosic musicians with great flexibility. We have a certain share of knowledge but we approach that knowledge differently. We can talk about this music as jazz musicians or we can talk about it as people who know a good bit of classical music at the same time. We can see the music from very different perspectives at once, which it’s very unique and I’m very grateful for that.

What would you change in the current jazz scene if you had the power to do it?
What I would change, and it would solve a lot of problems, is… I would hope that musicians value what they do a lot more and respect themselves a lot more. I think there’s a certain amount of desperation and we end up selling ourselves very cheaply. We don’t approach what we do as a business or as a product, so we’re willing to bend over backwards for a little compensation, and that’s not only bad for us, as individuals, but it’s bad for the whole scene. If everybody says: I’m not going to do a gig for less than $500, the minute that someone chooses to do a gig for less than $500 they’re ruining the business for everybody.
There’s a lack of unity and a lack of self-respect.

Your blend of contemporary jazz and Indian music is very unique. Who are your main influences in both currents?
My influences kind of span the world. There’s an Indian singer called Parveen Sultana who has been very influential for me; of course, Kadri Gopalnath, the saxophonist, has been an important figure for me, and there’s a great percussionist called Trichy Sankaran. There’s a bunch of folks that are incredibly inspiring, but those three in particular have been really moving. Besides, there’s other non-Western music. There’s West African music I really like, Ugandan, some Albanian folk music, there’s some Korean drumming that I think it’s very fascinating.
And then jazz-wise, it’s really the masters! You know… Charlie Parker, Coltrane…  Contemporarily, Dan (Weiss) and Rez (Abbasi) are really inspiring to me, Steve Coleman was a very early influence, and Steve Lehman, who’s one of my best friends.

What was the first jazz record you fell in love with?
Grover Washington Jr.’s Winelight.

Can you name two persons whom you've never collaborated with but you'd like to?
Let me think… I feel like it changes over the years, but I would love to play with Herbie Hancock for sure. Maybe spend a week with him. And I’ve always hoped that I would play with John McLaughlin, and it never happened. I would love to do that.

If not a musician, what would you have been?
A mathematician, or probably a number theorist or a topologist.

What can we expect in 2018? Any new project in mind?
I’m hoping that Indo-Pak Coalition does a bunch of touring since we haven’t done anything since the album came out. So, that’s kind of my main focus. And then there’s talk of doing a live trio record with bass and drums, but I’m still trying to figure out who that’s gonna to be. That will probably be my next project. I never actually did a live album, so that’s something I’m really looking forward to.

Michaela Bóková Interview - Heartcore For Africa, Berlin

By Clara Pereira

 Michaela Bóková and children, Mthunzi Orphan Center, Lusaka, Zambia 2017 

Michaela Bóková and children, Mthunzi Orphan Center, Lusaka, Zambia 2017 

 

Record label: Heartcore Records
Project: Heartcore For Africa
Production: Michaela Bóková 
Musicians: 
Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dave Douglas, Aaron Parks + children of Mthunzi Orphan Center

 

 

 

On December 12th, 2017, Berlin-based music label Heartcore Records released a new song “Ni Chikondi (About Love)”, in collaboration with the Mthunzi Orphan Center in Lusaka, Zambia. 
All the proceeds from digital sales will fund the purchase of musical equipment for the Mthunzi center, an orphanage that currently houses over fifty children. 
Co-written by Kurt Rosenwinkel and the children, the song also features the prominent jazz musicians Aaron Parks and Dave Douglas as guest performers.
Heartcore representative Michaela Bóková undertook the rehearsal, recording and production of the song; “The kids showed so much talent and creativity. We successfully built a twenty-piece choir and recorded seven children rapping in English and in their native-language, Nyanja. Spending a whole month among them was a very unique and joyful experience,” Bóková remembers.

from Heartcore Records Press Release

Heartcore_for_Africa_Wesly_Chibuye_and_David_Chilumbu_photo_Elena_Berto_preview.jpg
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We talked to Michaela Bóková who told us a bit more about this wonderful project, Heartcore for Africa, and its first released song “Ni Chikondi (About Love)”.

How did this project come to life?
At first, it was my wish to be active and helpful during the summer. I was searching for a place to put my energy into, but I didn’t know what kind of project I was looking for. After I found the music program at the Mthunzi center, Kurt and I agreed to move forward. Then, step-by-step, it started to grow. I called the project Heartcore for Africa and asked Kurt to make the basic track for the song.
 
Why Zambia? And how did you end up working with the kids at Mthunzi Center in Lusaka?
I was very lucky. I reached the right person who introduced me to the Mthunzi Centre, an orphanage in Zambia with an improvised recording studio. It was kind of a miracle! They already had plans to create something very similar to Heartcore for Africa. The timing was just perfect.
 
What are the goals of Heartcore for Africa?
We reached the first goal during my visit to the center. The kids were very happy to learn about music production. We had a lot of fun with plenty of music workshops, creating and recording. The second goal is selling the song. All the proceeds go back to the children so they can equip their studio and advance in their music education. Another goal is to let people know the world doesn’t end with walls and borders. There are so many people in need we can help. Helping people through music is the highest principle represented by the project.
 
How did the collaboration between Kurt Rosenwinkel, Aaron Parks and Dave Douglas happen?
As I mentioned, this project grew step by step. The idea of inviting other artists came later when I happened to mention the project to Dave Douglas and he immediately offered his help. Then I started to think, why don’t I ask some more people? Aaron Parks was the first one who came to mind, and he agreed when I asked him.
The collaboration itself was an amazing experience that everyone enjoyed.
 
How was the kids first reaction to the music? And what does the music studio mean to these kids?
The kids were wild! (laughs). First, they thought the song was too slow, but they got used to the groove and caught the beat soon thereafter. I heard the catchy melody around me every day. The kids created their own lyrics, which made the song very personal to them, and put a big effort into the whole process. It was amazing to observe their progress!
There were many kids with musical ambitions, who came to the studio almost every day and were very proud to have something like this at the center. The children are very creative and this is one of the few places where they can fully express themselves.
 
How was the experience for you? Any plans to repeat it?
The experience was incredible! I wouldn’t trade the month I spent in Africa for anything! Kurt and I are already planning another “Heartcore” projects. At the moment we are in touch with an educational organization in India. My dream is to create similar projects in different countries and after ten years we’ll hopefully release an album that contains the stories of people around the globe.

Check out the video and buy the song to support these talented kids to express themselves through the universal language that is music!

Matthew Shipp Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

 Matthew Shipp, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

Matthew Shipp, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

 

Name: Matthew Shipp
Instrument: piano
Style: contemporary jazz, modern creative
Album Highlights: Pastoral Composure (Thirsty Ear, 2000), Equilibrium (Thirsty Ear, 2003), Piano Song (Thirsty Ear, 2016)

 

 

 

You have two fresh records coming out on ESP-Disk label in February, one solo (Zero) and one in quartet (Sonic Friction). 
What's the concept behind Zero?

There is no concept behind Zero except for a questioning of the same metaphysical concepts that have always been what I ask - How things come out of nothing? How poles of energy cohere into events and things? And the polarity between the abyss and the manifested. The abyss has always interested me and the poles of desire that the universe uses to make diversity come out of unity, so the universe can get to know itself, which it cannot by being the one entity it is. Also, the invisible glue that holds the world together is a fascination of mine. This is where I was at when I recorded the CD.

By listening to it, one can easily identify classical and blues elements. They are used, not in their traditional forms, but always as vehicles for your creative process. Which are your main influences/inspirations in these currents?
I don’t think in terms of genre. I think in terms of fields of energy that sort of manifest as language or what you might call a genre, so, classical music per-se does not interest me, but many classical composers touch on the ideas I like, and they interest me for that reason, not for the fact that they are classical composers. The language fields that have meant something to me are Bach, Chopin, Joplin, Webern, Debussy, etc. It's more the idea of a language field that interests me. I like Xenakis as far as math being a language along with the music. As far as blues goes, the blues is a field of resonance, and I don’t know if I have any specific influences within the blues language, but it is connected to a feeling and an emotion and though I play space blues like Sun Ra. I still have an interest in the field, and resonance, hence the blues.

Sonic Friction marks the fourth collaboration with Mat Walerian. How did you guys meet and who first had the idea of recording?
Mat Walerian contacted an old agent of mine. I originally did not want to work with him, mainly because I am not at a point of enlarging the sphere of people I play with. However, he used as a reference Hamid Drake, who he had done some playing with, and Hamid told me he thought we would be great together. So, based on Hamid's recommendation, I did a concert with Walerian. When I first shook hands with him, I knew we would really hit it off and it just happened. Things just took on a life of its own after that.

Walerian and Ivo Perelman are your frequent collaborators, but different sound explorers. In your point of view, what do they bring to your music in order to enrich it?
Ivo Perelman and Walerian are completely different animals. Both of them mean a lot to me. First of all, they are from different generations. Ivo is my age, and since we are the same generation, we tend to have a very similar worldview and way of going about things. Walerian is a whole different, pole of energy, and to some extent he was shaped by my generation, despite the fact that he obviously is influenced by some of the same people I am, like Coltrane, etc. 
Ivo, in some ways, postures himself in ways like David S. Ware and Charles Gayle would, in a certain tradition of a tenor hero, whereas Walerian does not posture himself as a sax hero. I'm not sure how I would word his posture, but it's different and a new form and mode of presentation plus he has found a really unique and unpretentious way of wedding his Zen and martial arts philosophy to the music. What both have in common is a real honesty about who they are. Both are very honest and completely unpretentious. They are vibrant for that reason plus their talents.

You had electronics, synth, and programming added to some of your past albums such as Nu Bop and Equilibrium. What are your thoughts about the use of technology in music?
I have no thoughts about electronica in jazz. I did it for a while and, at that time, it was perfect for what I was exploring and I am glad I did some projects like that, but as far as what others are doing, they have to do what is right for them and, in most cases, if they are doing it, I assume it's because it needs to be done. At this point, I am weeded to acoustic jazz for myself.

What else besides music interests you?
Interests other than music: metaphysics, fighting (boxing and martial arts), politics, history, literature. All kinds of things actually. This is a rich world. No one should ever be bored. If you are, it's your fault.

As a prolific creator, are you happy with the current music business? What would you change immediately if you had that power?
I do not feel the music industry is headed to a good place, but I don’t feel too good about many things in society. I have serious problems with streaming. I am glad I made my name in industry days before what we have now. There are so many things about modern culture that are very shallow and virtual or not really real. People have some serious soul searching to do about values that are solid and real, and in some ways, the way things have gone do not facilitate the values I think are important. I hope things do not have to crash before people are forced to reevaluate a lot of things. The music industry has no center today. It takes incredible persistence and willpower to cut a niche out for yourself in the middle of all the noise out here. It has always been like that but culture has seemed to have taken a dip down. Of course, there are tons of talented people with something to say out here, but there is some nasty haze over everything these days, so, an artist has to be really concentrated in their own source code.

What was the first jazz record you fell in love with?
The first jazz album that really interested me was Phineas Newborn Jr.'s Solo Piano.

Can you name two persons whom you've never collaborated with but you would like to?
Kool Keith and Ikue Mori. I would also love to play with the great saxist James Spaulding.

You have found your own voice. What's your advice for the ones who are still trying to find theirs?
I feel lucky that I found my voice. Don’t know what to say to people who ask how. You have to really trust yourself. How you do that, I don’t know. You must have an intense desire to have your own voice, you must have the poetic vision to follow your own demons and thought forms. Hopefully, you can draw on something primal that you knew as a 3-year-old. Of course, at that time, you would have had no way to articulate what you knew on an instrument or in any other form, but there are secrets in nature that we are aware of as kids that are educated out of us at a later date. You need to find some way to break down the layers of socialization that were thrust upon you by society and to find your primal self.

Any other projects for 2018?
Concerts with my trio, solo, and with Ivo Perelman. There might be a film also, more on that later.

François Bourassa Interview, NYC

by Filipe Freitas

 François Bourassa, 2017 ©Mathieu Rivard

François Bourassa, 2017 ©Mathieu Rivard

 

Name: François Bourassa
Instrument: piano
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Cactus (Lost Chart Records, 1999), Indefinite Time (Effendi, 2003), Number 9 (Effendi, 2017)

 

 

 

 

"Carla and Karlheinz" is the stunning opener of your latest CD, Number 9. Can you talk a bit about your compositional process in general, as well as your influences, particularly on this tune?
My process is very intuitive and not pre-determined.
My influences on this tune are Carla Bley pieces from the early 60's and Mantra by Karlheinz Stockhausen - a piece for 2 pianos and electronics.
 
What do you search and what do you want to convey with your music?
To touch people with emotion.
 
Being a Quebecois, how do you see the Canadian jazz scene?
A lot of good players and dedicated festivals, still the country is so large and there are not enough gigs.
 
Are you happy with today's music business? If you had the power to change it, what would you do for a start?
No. Same fees as 30 years ago.
I would focus on more promotion for non-commercial music, more exposure for non-commercial music. More gigs and more money. 
 
What was the first jazz album you fell in love with? 
Maybe ‪Keith Jarrett's‬ My Song or ‪Chick Corea's ‬Now He Sings Now He Sobs.
 
Which other styles do you listen to? What are your favorite artists for each style?
Plenty of styles. Classical, funk, rock, blues, contemporary music, chanson... as for my faves there are so many, it's too hard to think of just one in each category.
 
Can you tell us two persons who influenced you the most as a pianist?
Bill Evans and Chick Corea.
 
Can you tell us two persons whom you've never collaborated with but you'd like to? 
Elvin Jones and Lester Young.

If you weren't a musician, what would you be? 
Not much.

What can we expect next? Are you already working on another project/album? 
A solo piano album.

Jon Irabagon Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

 Jon Irabagon, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

Jon Irabagon, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

 

Name: Jon Irabagon
Instrument: saxophone
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Outright! (Innova Records, 2008), It Takes All KInds (Jazzwerkstatt/Irabbagast, 2013), Behind The Sky (Irabbagast Records, 2015)

 

 

 

You are the headliner of the 19th AngraJazz Festival, which happens in October in Angra do Heroismo, Azores, Portugal. What does this invitation represent to you?
It is humbling to be considered a headliner amongst all the great acts that are performing at AngraJazz.  To me, AngraJazz is one of the most prominent, important festivals in Europe, so it is a huge blessing to be able to perform here for the first time, and especially as a leader.  I am very proud of this quartet so I am excited to debut it in Europe on this tour.  And of course, the Azores is such a beautiful area, so I definitely will be exploring Terceira... and hopefully another island as well!

What can the audience expect from your quartet performance? Will you draw exclusively from Behind the Sky or play new material as well?
We will be performing music from Behind the Sky as well as music from a brand new record that I hope to have available for the performance, even though it is coming out in early 2018.  The new record is entitled Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics and takes a nod from traveling circus shows and sideshows from the past.  This new record features the great Tim Hagans on several tracks, and represents a step further in the evolution of this quartet.

What do you think about this year's lineup?
I have followed AngraJazz for many years now, and the festival always brings high-level acts and many different styles and philosophical ideas to the people.  It's a very well run festival and the programming is unique.  I am looking forward to catching as many of the artists as possible.

Pick your favorite one:
a) studio or live performance?  
I used to say hands down live performance, but recently I've been working in the studio and with post-production, and there definitely is an art to crafting something to be laid down for all time. 
b) small ensemble or big band?  
Small ensemble for me is fun and challenging, but many of the best small ensemble players got their starts in big bands, myself included.  There is a camaraderie in big bands that cannot be replicated, and definitely a sound that can be spectacular
c) small clubs or big festivals?  
The small clubs are where you can really connect with your audience and get into some special places with your group, but there is nothing like big festivals for the adrenaline!

If you had total power to change the current jazz scene, what would be your moves?  
That is a very complicated question!!  I suppose I would lobby for more cross-listening and less segregation between the different styles.  Part of what I find so magical, so mystical about jazz and improvisation is when two seemingly disparate styles or people come together and create something new.  There is a time and a place for perfection and pristine performances, though I tend to gravitate towards the unknown-- not minding bumps or mistakes along the way.

What was the first jazz album you fell in love with?  
There were several simultaneously-- Cannonball Adderley Quintet Live in San Francisco, Dave Holland Quartet's Conference of the Birds, Sean Bergin's Copy Cat and John Coltrane's Blue Train all took me into different directions.  

Which other styles do you listen to? Tell me your favorites for each style.  
I listen to as much different music as possible; recently I've been checking out different Balkan musicians as well as Bartok and Shostakovich string quartets

Can you tell me two persons who influenced you the most as a musician?  
I've been lucky to be in the bands of two people who influenced me before I had the chance to play with them:  Barry Altschul and Dave Douglas. I obtained as many records as I could by both of these musicians, both as leaders and sidemen, and transcribed tunes and solos and listened exhaustively to each.  When the time came that I was able to play with them, this previous listening gave my real-life interactions with them more life and meaning, and I am grateful to both for the learning, both on and off the bandstand, that they have provided.

If you weren't a musician what would you have been?  
It took me a few years to realize it, but I couldn't have been anything except a musician. 

In which projects are you involved at the moment?  
This quartet that is performing here has a new record called Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics and is coming out in early 2018.  I recorded a solo mezzo soprano (in F) record in August that will also be released early next year, and I'm hoping to bring an organ trio I've been leading with Gary Versace and Nasheet Waits into the studio in 2018 for a release late in the year.  All of these records will come out on my record label, Irabbagast Records.

Uri Gurvich Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

 Uri Gurvich, 2017, ©Clara Pereira

Uri Gurvich, 2017, ©Clara Pereira

 

 

 

Name: Uri Gurvich
Instrument: tenor and soprano saxophone
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: The Storyteller (Tzadik, 2009), BabEl (Tzadik, 2013), Kinship (Jazz Family, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

When did you decide to become a saxophonist? How did it happen?
I started playing the saxophone at age of 10. When I got into high school I was already pretty serious with it and got more into the instrument. Eventually as the years passed it evolved into being my profession. It wasn’t a certain decisive moment; it was just something that happened naturally.

Who are your favorite saxophonists?
My top three are John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Cannonball Adderley. These are the three I studied the most. I also love Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker. 

Kinship is such a strong word and concept, which was the conceptual basis for your new album.  How did the idea come up as motivation/inspiration?
With the album Kinship, the compositions came first and then the title. I tried to write tunes that had a certain connection or a shared message, showing the band’s special bond as a multi-national group of people. Being from four different countries, we have certain cultural differences but we share a common language and affinity through music. On a broader scale, we have seen a lot of divisions within society (especially in recent months), but our goal with this album was to spread a message of global unity. For me, the word “kinship” evokes all of these ideas.

Can you talk a bit about your compositional process?
I don’t have a specific compositional process, but I usually try to start with one decisive element; it can be a certain form, groove, portraying a certain place or person etc., even though sometimes this leads to a completely different thing! Then I see where it takes me from there. Also, I often write some little ideas or motifs in a notebook, and many times will go back to it or utilize some of those. Every couple of years, I try to keep the compositions within a certain vibe, with the hope of eventually creating a cohesive book/album of compositions. 

Tells us an adjective that better describes you, and then do the same for your bandmates.
I think that the best adjective that describes us is – Courageous.

Your top three jazz albums?
John Coltrane – Crescent, Charlie Parker – Bird with Strings, John Coltrane – Live at the Half Note, and many others... 

Name two musicians whom you've never collaborated with, but you'd like to.
It would be a dream to collaborate with Chick Corea or Bill Frisell.

What do you have to say about the current jazz scene?
I think that jazz music, all around the world, brings positive energy and uplifts the listeners’ spirits in these hard times. For me, that’s what jazz is about. Of course, the jazz scene is changing and will change as the world changes, but the message is here to stay. 

Can you briefly describe the hardest and the happiest moments of your career?
My happiest moments have definitely been playing live music in different parts of the world. Usually, these moments were achieved through hard work and sometimes struggle, making them all the more memorable.

Projects for the future?
This fall, I’ll be presenting the new album in Germany, France, and Spain and also will be touring across Europe with the Danish bassist Kenneth Dahl Knudsen, and with the Argentinian guitarist Ramiro Olaciregui in Ecuador. 
I’m also working on writing music for two new projects, which I’ll present in January 2018 in a weeklong residency at the Stone – one is a chord-less quartet featuring trumpet player Adam O’Farrill, and the other is an electric-centered band featuring bassist Panagiotis Andreou. 

Kurt Rosenwinkel Interview, Funchal

By Filipe Freitas

 Kurt Rosenwinkel, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

Kurt Rosenwinkel, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

 

 

Name: Kurt Rosenwinkel
Instrument: guitar
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: The Next Step (Verve, 2001), Star of Jupiter (Wommusic, 2012), Caipi (Heartcore Records, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What was your overall perception of Funchal Jazz? Did you enjoy playing here?
What a great exotic destination for us on tour! This part of being a touring musician is the best part, when you can come to a place like this and have a few days to relax and to discover the people and the place. It’s so very beautiful, I wish I had more time to discover things on the island but we have to get back to work. The festival… really great vibe, positive, energetic, happy vibe, and very well done and organized. All the technical aspects were just perfect and the level of professionalism in the infrastructure of the festival was really top quality. So, it makes it really easy to do our jobs the best way we can and to enjoy it, at the same time there’s no troubles or stress.

How are people reacting to your sudden change of style? How do you feel it?
We’ve been having a tremendously positive response to the music. I just feel that people are being able to get into the music and let it flow. I was prepared for some people preferring what I was doing before, but I think the overwhelming response is very positive. I feel very comfortable and very strong with the band and this material. It’s exciting to me, and I know I’m doing the right thing.

Do you have anything to say to those who miss your previous style?
All of this music has been in my mind and in my life for the while I was doing my other albums, so this is not new for me. It’s always been there. I think that once the shock of the difference wears off, you’ll hear all the same elements, sound, and depth as before. It has everything I’ve always done and more. It’s more fully myself and I think anybody could enjoy it, including people who like my ‘old’ music (laughs).

Any other projects at the moment besides Caipi? 
I’m playing with Human Feel, a group I have for almost 30 years with Chris Speed, Andrew D’Angelo, and Jim Black. We play in August in Lisbon. A new record by Human Feel is coming out soon, but I’m not sure if on my label, Heartcore Records. Pedro Martins’ new album, in which I play, will come out next on Heartcore. It’s called Vox and it’s really astounding. I have other artists recording too, and we’re just building up the label and creating a brand and connectedness from great music all around the world, wherever we find it, and regardless the genre. At the root, all traditions meet. That’s the idea of Heartcore, if it has heart and passion, quality, commitment to excellence, depth, and truth, that’s Heartcore!

A few months ago I’ve interviewed David Binney, who was very excited about a possible collaboration with you in a future project that would also include Pedro Martins and Louis Cole. Do you confirm?
Good to hear that! I’m excited too and it’s going to happen because it’s been meaning to happen for a long time. I love Dave’s music and his playing, and I love him as a person. The orbits are working out by themselves so we can land on the same planet and have a jam.

You played a lot of instruments on Caipi. What would be your second choice after the guitar?
Piano. It’s really my mother instrument and the first I’ve played. There was a moment, when I was 18, that I had to decide whether to be a pianist or a guitarist. I chose guitar because I was better at it and spent more time working on it.  But I love playing the bass, drums, and percussion. It was really fun to go to a store and buy all these percussive instruments and then go home and learn how to shake an egg. It’s not as easy as it looks. I did a lot of investigation and experimentation on it.

Why it took you so long to get these tunes out since you wrote them a long time ago?
Even though the music was pretty much finished, I was waiting for missing parts of the puzzle. It was a waiting strategy and Pedro was an important piece to complete that puzzle. Also, the development followed a very natural progression with these songs forming themselves and also me going around the world and doing my thing and then coming home again and being able to work on them again. It was a very slow moving process but always kept gradually moving forward.

You’re living in Berlin. What were the reasons for this choice?
They offered me a professorship there in 2007. The city hadn’t been in my mind until then. But when I went to visit, I fell in love with the city and I accepted it.

Which main differences do you see between the American and European jazz scenes? Do you think the American scene is more vibrant?
I wouldn’t say that. I mean, New York is special and unique in the whole world. Also, Philly and Boston have great jazz traditions. But there are also thriving scenes in Europe too like Copenhagen, Berlin, London, and Amsterdam. There’s a lot going on in those places.

What was the first jazz record you fell in love with?
J.J. Johnson’s Concepts In Blue.

Which other styles do you listen to besides jazz?
Hip hop and rap. 

Can you recommend some artists?
Q-Tip and The Notorious B.I.G.

Can you name two persons who have marked you the most as a musician?
John Coltrane and Bud Powell.

Is there any musician whom you’ve never collaborated with but you’d like to?
Bobby Hutcherson. When I thought about the personnel to record The Next Step album, Bobby Hutcherson was on my list to play vibes. I asked Verve if I could get him on the album, but they’ve said no.

If not a musician what would you have been?
A writer.

Michael Attias Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

 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

By Filipe Freitas

 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

By Filipe Freitas

 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

By Filipe Freitas

 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

By Filipe Freitas

 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

By Filipe Freitas

 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

By Filipe Freitas

 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

By Filipe Freitas

 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.