Matt Mitchell Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

matt-mitchell-interview-nyc.jpg

Name: Matt Mitchell
Instrument: piano, keyboards
Style: contemporary jazz, avant-garde jazz, modern creative
Album Highlights: Vista Accumulation (Pi Recordings, 2015), A Pouting Grimace (Pi Recordings, 2017), Phalanx Ambassadors (Pi Recordings, 2019)

At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be a professional musician?
There wasn’t a single moment of recognition. Around age 14-15 I probably realized that I spent all my available free time working on music and that it would dominate my consciousness regardless of whatever else I was doing. I didn’t fully commit to being a full-time professional musician until I was almost 34, though.

Your style is impossible to copy. What's the secret for making intricate polyrhythmic lines sound so organic?
This is a gigantic question, and answering is going to leave other gaping unanswered holes, but ok... A short answer is that polyrhythms are actually inherently “organic”. If we’re taking “organic” to mean “somehow naturally occurring or naturally felt”, I could make a case that even the most complex polyrhythms that human musicians play aren’t even organic enough.
Semantics aside, my solution for incorporating any sort of new musical elements has usually been just picking small areas on which to work and just going for it, making the practice and absorption process itself creative. And while I do, of course, use that type of rhythmic material, it’s just a part of a continuum, really. I give polyrhythms a lot of attention because they’re very difficult to really master all the potential implications - and really working on them also helps “on-the-3s and 4s grid” sort of playing/phrasing/writing as well.
In other words, no secret, just a slow building up from a cellular level as with other aspects of music.
As for the notion of my style being impossible to copy, I actually doubt that’s true. Every subsequent generation takes for granted what older musicians struggled to achieve. They don’t see it as hard. I’m turning 44 this week - I can tell you from experience that musicians 10 years younger than me have internalized things in a way my generation hasn’t, and people 20 years younger even more so. It’s the way it is.

Can you briefly describe your gear (I know you've been fascinated by the sonic offerings of the Prophet 6) and tells us in which musical contexts do you like to use them?
I’ve always messed around with synthesizers in various forms since I was a teenager. I’m fascinated with electronic sounds in general and love them in almost every conceivable context. I somehow learned early on that it was best for me to never use presets and learn to program my own sounds. Yes, I like the Prophet because it sounds great and also allows me to bridge the gap between the more “functional” aspects of the music I’m playing - notes/rhythms etc - and the more abstract realms of sound and color. I have a bunch of other instruments including some Eurorack format modular synths, as well as several harder-to-describe devices, all of which I’m doing my best to learn. Plus there’s the whole realm of doing it all on the computer. It all is great and it’s so much to get a grip on, especially while maintaining some sort of control of the piano and also composing! But it’s a golden era for electronic sound, in my opinion.

What are your top 3 jazz albums?
Another vast question. As far as albums that have unending emotional resonance for me, let’s say...
Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch; Miles Davis - Nefertiti; Andrew Hill - Point of Departure.
Haa, just realized that’s a Tony Williams trifecta. So be it.

Tells us two persons who have influenced you the most as a musician.
Gonna say my Mom and Dad, who gave me the freedom to even get to the point that I could decide to be a musician in any way.

Tells us two persons whom you've never collaborated with but you'd like to.
I’m loathe to come across as angling or schmoozing but ok: Bill Frisell is someone whose music I’ve loved since I was 13. Jack DeJohnette.
Aside from that, there are many many musicians with whom I’ve played a little and would love to play with more: Ambrose Akinmusire, Marcus Gilmore, Justin Brown, Mark Shim. Immanuel Wilkins and Joel Ross are two young dudes who are pretty dang formidable too.
There are way way way more musicians out there than there is time in which to play with them. And that doesn’t count developing existing things, which is a pretty big chunk of what I do. And this is just the jazz world. I’d love to make disgusting electronic sounds with a metal band, or do weird studio doodles on art-pop songs, or make weird beats with folks, etc.

Apart from jazz, what other styles do you listen to? Name a couple of favorites for each style.
Vast potential answer. I’m attracted to all sort of types of music and sound. Again, too much out there. I return to metal, electronic music, songwriters, all sorts of in-the-cracks artists, “modern classical”, etc etc.
Bob Drake - The Skull Mailbox; Residents - The Commercial Album; Morton Feldman - For Philip Guston; Autechre - Exai; Kate Bush - The Dreaming; Frank Black - Teenager of the Year; Portal - any album; Gnaw Their Tongues - anything; Madlib - all the Beat Konduckta and Medicine Show stuff; Bernard Parmegiani - everything; Guided By Voices - anything; Chris Weisman - Everybody’s Old and Valence With Tassels; Ryan Power - Identity Picks and They Sell Doomsday.

In your perspective, what needs to change in the current jazz scene?
I’m not sure I’d change anything. If someone can play authoritatively, then there is a space for them. And really the role of taste is still way under-considered overall. Everyone has a cutoff beyond which they think something isn’t worthy, and that line is different for literally everyone.
I’m a firm believer into saying it with the music, with your playing, your composing, etc. This becomes more of a challenge as one learns to love lots of music. But the musical choices one makes convey certain things, I tend to think.
I’ve decided it’s important for me to strike a balance between creative fluidity and strength of purpose. That said, I create my music based solely on what I want to hear, and worrying about selling it later. Most of what I love does this in some way. Anything I don’t like I do my best to ignore - life is too short.

If you weren't a musician, what would you have been?
The subject I had the most interest in was outer space, cosmology, the universe etc., but that’s a big if as there was no chance I was seriously doing anything else. If I was forced to give up music now, I’d almost for sure write, as in words, probably creatively somehow. Just become a reader of books and writers of words. This is aside from any real world considerations, basically, since I’m probably too old to really switch anyway.

Projects for the near future?
The next album to be recorded will be Snark Horse, which is a project Kate Gentile and I co-lead in which we play one bar compositions with varied subgroups of a set pool of 8 musicians joining us. Later on, there will be follow up recordings for my duo with Ches Smith, my quartet with Speed/Tordini/Weiss, and Phalanx Ambassadors. I plan to do another solo piano album sometime. I’m gradually working on a body of chamber music for strings and piano as well. And other ideas brewing as well...

Miguel Zenon Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

Miguel Zenon, 2018, ©Clara Pereira

Miguel Zenon, 2018, ©Clara Pereira




Name: Miguel Zenón
Instrument: alto saxophone
Style: Post-bop, Latin jazz
Album Highlights: Looking Forward (Fresh Sound, 2002), Tipico (Miel Music, 2017), Yo Soy La Tradición (Miel Music, 2018)




Filipe Freitas had a phone conversation with Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenón, a multiple Grammy award-nominee and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and McArthur Fellowship. In October, he is heading to Angra do Heroísmo in the Azores, Portugal, to play at the 21st AngraJazz Fest.

You are the headliner of this year’s AngraJazz, a festival that occurs from October 3 to 5. I know you’ve been in Portugal on many occasions and even recorded there not long ago with saxophonist Cesar Cardoso, but have you been to the Azores before?
No, I’ve never been there but have many friends who have been. As a matter of fact, we’ve been trying to go to Angra for a few years now, but it never worked out with my schedule; it always coincided with a time when I was busy doing something else, and I’m really happy that it will finally happen.

What does the audience at AngraJazz can expect from you and your quartet?
Hopefully, we'll do music they will enjoy (laughs). A lot of music that we do is strongly connected to my roots and, of course, we incorporate a lot of jazz elements and other things. We’re going to play music from a whole new project focused on music that is coming more from the salsa genre. This new record is coming out in the fall. It’s a kind of look at this very popular dance music from the ’70s from a jazz perspective.

Can we say the performance will work as a sort of a test for this new batch of music?
Yes, in a way. The record comes out in early September and we’re gonna be playing this music in the States before we go to Europe. So, by the time we get there, it’s going to be feeling pretty good.

You’ve been doing a lot for Puerto Rico in many different ways. How often do you play there? Is your program Caravana Cultural still active?
I’m actually in Puerto Rico right now. Caravana Cultural is still active, but we had to put it on hold for a little bit because of the hurricane Maria. After that incident, a lot of things had to stop because the towns are sort of rebuilding, but we hope to do another concert this year. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Puerto Rico this past year as an artist in residence at San Juan Music Conservatory. But the reason I’m here now it’s because I’m playing a concert regarding Yo Soy La Tradición, a project of mine that I recorded recently with a string quartet.

If you had the power, what would you change in the current jazz scene?
I see the current jazz scene as something really great, but one of its problems is connected to jazz education in general. I teach in a couple of schools, so I’m pretty involved in it. Something that’s happening and becoming problematic is that a lot of students are coming out of these schools and there aren’t so many opportunities for them to perform. This situation is making competition among these young musicians kind of impossible because they graduate school and then don’t know what to do. I mean, I don’t really know the solution for this, but if I could change something, I would set up some kind of platform to make the transition easier for these young musicians. Maybe 30 or 40 years ago, if you’re at school or you move to New York or elsewhere, there were working bands with gigs to help you pay your rent, but that’s hard now.

Who influenced you the most as a musician?
As a jazz musician, Charlie Parker was my biggest influence. He sort of opened my eyes to jazz and until today I still see him as the epitome of excellence.

On your website, you point out movies and books as other personal interests. From what you’ve been watching and reading recently, what do you recommend?
I saw a great movie called Generation Wealth. I don’t really watch a lot of documentaries but this one was really impressive, focusing on the way people look at prosperity in the modern world. In terms of books, one of my favorite writers is this guy from Chile, Roberto Bolaño, who became legendary after he passed away. I read a lot of his things, but the most recent was a book of his complete short stories.

If not a musician, what would you have been?
When I was younger, attending school in Puerto Rico, I was really interested in natural sciences. Math and physics really attracted me. As a matter of fact, when I decided to pursue a career of music I was already enrolled in the engineering school in Puerto Rico. That was definitely the road I was following at that point.

Tells us a bit more about this new album you’re releasing soon and any other project you are involved in at the moment.
This new album that we’ve just finished is called Sonero and, as I said, it’s a tribute to salsa music, specifically to this Puerto Rican musician called Ismael Rivera. A lot of his music will be featured on the record. But I’m also working on a couple of commissions for next year and a couple of other things for smaller groups. On top of that, I’m just trying to get out there! (laughs)

Stephanie Richards Interview, NYC

Stephanie Richards, 2018, ©Clara Pereira

Stephanie Richards, 2018, ©Clara Pereira

Name: Stephanie Richards
Instrument: trumpet, flugelhorn
Style: modern creative, avant-garde jazz
Album Highlights: Fullmoon (Relative Pitch, 2018), Take The Neon Lights (Fresh Sound, 2019)

Tell us a bit more about your forthcoming album, Take the Neon Lights.
This next record is my second record. Unlike the first [Fullmoon], with solo trumpet and a very experimental concept, this one goes more into my roots as a jazz musician. Compositionally, the music is still really complex and rhythmic. It’s a quartet and a lot of the compositions are in song form, so we have cycles over which we improvise. There’s also some open improvisation in there, I mean, it’s still experimental but definitely much more of a jazz record. The music itself is about New York City. I’ve been living here for 10 years now, so I wrote it for certain places in Brooklyn and New York. There is also poetry that was written for NYC and I kind of linked to it by giving each tune the title of a poem.

Why the option for a jazz quartet?
Well, it’s interesting that the instrumentation determines a little bit if it’s jazz or not. It’s a lot easier to call it jazz when you have a quartet and it’s really hard to call it jazz if I’m playing my trumpet against a timpani or a snare drum. But, at the same time, I see it as the same. When improvising, I’m responding to the same information.

What music genres outside of jazz influence you?
I listen to a lot of music. James Brown is a huge influence. I like funk music a lot and for a period of time that was all I did. I’m also really excited about what’s going on in the indie rock scene. I think there’s so much crossover between indie rock musicians and jazz improvisers, especially in a place like New York.

I know you’ve collaborated with the Pixies, which is a band I grew up listening to. How did that happen?
I played in a group called Asphalt Orchestra, formed ten years ago in New York, and the idea behind it was: we’re going to play new music but we’re going to be choreographed. We had this idea for our second album while on tour, and at one point we all agreed we wanted to listen to Pixies record Surfer Rosa. Everyone in the band was digging the record so much and we just had this conversation: ‘man, what if we did a cover record? This is kind of a new music ensemble.’ That was awesome, it was so much fun. We toured that project and opened for Pixies several times.

What made you choose the trumpet?
I wish I had a romantic answer for you (laughs). I was lucky to go to a school that had a band program and I liked the trumpet because, at that time, I had the idea to move between the orchestra and the jazz band. That flexibility was a nice reason when I look at the music I play now. I’m always moving between different genres and different communities.

You played at Winter JazzFest. How was the experience?
At Winter JazzFest you’re playing for people who really love jazz. It’s not like in those clubs where half of the people are there for dinner. There are so many musicians, there’s such a good hang, and the audience is a mix of musicians, writers, lovers of music and people coming from all over the world. I felt especially honored because it was the last set of the last day of the festival and it meant a lot every single person that waited to see us.

Can you tell me two persons who have influenced you the most as a musician?
The first one and most clear is Butch Morris. He influenced me so much. I had the fortune of meeting Butch through a mutual friend. I was playing at my friend’s wedding and Butch pulled me aside, saying: ‘I got the good whiskey.’ (laughs). And then he looked at me and said: ‘you’re not really a trumpet player’. It took me a moment to realize he meant that as the biggest compliment he could give because what I take from his words is that I wasn't playing the instrument in a traditional way. After that moment, he kind of took me under his wing and he showed me around New York. He introduced me to Henry Threadgill and kind of hooked us up together. I also learned so much from working with Henry, listening to him and watching him.

Is there someone who you would like to collaborate with?
There’s so many and I can go so many different directions, but if I could… in my dreams, it would be Wayne Shorter.

If not a musician, what would you be?
Maybe a dancer or an athlete. Trumpet is a very athletic instrument and I actually love that aspect. I think my body has more music inside of it than my brain does, so when I’m playing I usually let my body take over.

What was the first jazz album you fell in love with?
My first jazz record was Kind of Blue but I didn’t fall in love with it. It took me a long time. I didn’t understand the context or what that music meant. I got the record, I listened to it because teachers were telling me to check it out, I transcribed solos, and then a few years later I picked it up again and could hear the colors inside of it. I could hear the sophistication and the class and the taste that Bill Evans had, and what Miles Davis was doing, which was totally pioneering. My second record was just a collection of all the Verve recordings. A four CD-set of kind of old jazz that took me through decades of jazz, starting in the 20s. I remember being super into J.J. Johnson and Duke Ellington.

Are you working on any other project?
After this record [Take the Neon Lights], I’ve got another record where I worked with a scent artist, someone who creates smells. I wrote music with smells. I’m interested in the idea of the ability to sense music not just with our ears but also with our bodies. The new record is done - it’s with Jason Moran (piano), Stomu Takeishi (bass) and Kelly Wollesen (drums). It’s a great band and it was a wacko project! The other part of it is that, as musicians, we’re trying to figure out how to survive in a digital age. And one part of this project is that you can’t buy smells on iTunes. I was really trying to think about how could we make the physical manifestation of our music meaningful. If the record comes with stickers that you have to smell, then it adds another sort of level to the listening experience. It will probably come out next year and we’ll see how it goes.

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.

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.