Filtering by Category: jazz

Episode 24: Bill Stewart

Bill Stewart is one of the most creative  jazz drummers around today. Since moving to New York in 1989, he has been busy playing in groups with the likes of Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Maceo Parker, and Pat Metheny. Here he talks about growing up in Iowa, finding his way into the music and out of the Midwest, the early days of his career in New York, his approach to playing and composing.

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Episode 21: Steve Khan

Guitarist Steve Khan was born and raised in Los Angeles in a house of songs. His father, lyricist and songwriter Sammy Cahn, made countless contributions to the American songbook. As a young boy, Steve was surrounded by his father’s friends and collaborators; Dean Martin was a regular at the house.  But as he describes it, his father’s world was not particularly attractive to him, and he felt a real distance between himself and his father’s world.

Coming of age in LA in the 60’s, Steve was drawn to music for somewhat more social reasons. His friends played in garage bands, and he wanted a piece of the action. His first instrument was the drums, while still in high school he ended up playing in a surf rock band called the Chantays, who had a hit called Pipeline. Oddly enough, it was the guys in the Chantays who turned Khan onto jazz, the music that truly inspired him.

At 19, Steve made the switch to guitar. In 1970 he relocated from the West Coast to New York. He quickly became an integral part of the studio recording and fusion scenes – in the 1970s he recorded on dozens of records, many of them important statements for artists ranging from the Brecker Brothers to Billy Joel, Kenny Loggins to Freddie Hubbard, Ashford and Simpson to Blood Sweat and Tears, Chaka Khan to Steely Dan. During the period when he was most active on the scene, Steve started recording as a solo artist for major labels. He has recorded over 25 albums as a soloist.

One particular project, called Eyewitness, was clearly a watershed moment for him. It featured Khan, bassist Anthony Jackson, drummer Steve Jordan and percussionist Manolo Badrena. This project seems to have opened a door for him creatively, and since the early 80s he has pursued his love of Latin music.

When I started this podcast, sometimes people would ask me what I’m interested in talking about. I would sometimes answer that I’m looking for the intersection between personal experience and art – where life meets craft. Of course, that’s not always what happens in these conversations, and it’s certainly not any kind of mandate. But it does feel appropriate to wrap up the first year of these conversations with Steve Khan, because not only is he a great storyteller full of anecdotes, but he also is deeply aware of how his life and his music overlap. 

This was a long conversation and for the first time, I’m including some pieces that didn’t make the final cut available here. So if you’re interested and would like to hear more, specifically about some of the technical aspects of Steve’s playing, there’s another 20 minutes of the conversation available below.

Stream it here or download it from the iTunes Music Store.

Episode 20: Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier is a singer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and youtube sensation. He’s primarily known for a series of music videos that he posts online, in which he creates ingenious arrangements of songs by composers ranging from Jerome Kern to Stevie Wonder.

In the videos, he records himself singing elaborate and ingenious harmonies, and films himself singing each of the parts, dressed in a slightly different shirt and hairstyle. There’s something very sweet and almost naïve about the visual presentation – it’s definitely homegrown and handmade, but the music is so sophisticated, so hip, so smart and at the same time, so beautiful, that the combination of the visual presentation and the music delivers a massive punch.

Our conversation feels like a document of a brilliant artist, still early in his development. At only 20 years old, he’s already beyond most musical minds I’ve come across. But he’s also still totally curious, filled with an enormous amount of wonder and enthusiasm for new ideas, musical or otherwise.

Here he talks about his personal approach to learning, music and harmony, what makes a groove work, the role of technology for him and his generation, and handling early cyber-fame.

Stream it here or download it from the iTunes Music Store.

Episode 15: John Ellis

Saxophonist John Eliis grew up in North Carolina, in a family that valued the arts and creativity, but also surrounded by what he refers to as “country people”. He attended high school and part of college at an arts academy in North Carolina before moving to New Orleans, and eventually settling in New York city, about 15 years ago.

He works regularly as a sideman with other jazz artists including Dr. Lonnie Smith, Miguel Zenon, and Darcie James-Argue. He’s the kind of musician who brings real energy and enthusiasm to a project, and also a real sense of his own personal identity

John has also recorded a number of albums under his own name, and with a project he has called “Double Wide”. His most recent solo project, called MOBRO, is a long form narrative collaboration with playwright Andy Bragen, was released earlier this year.

Ellis returns again and again to the importance of where he came from, and how the people he saw growing up influenced his values as an artists. He also discusses the advantage of being isolated when he was learning to play, and the importance self study in jazz. In many ways, it seems that being somewhat isolated and finding jazz very much on his own is what helped him to find his own sound and musical voice.

Episode 11: James Farber

James Farber is a Grammy Award winning recording and mixing engineer. He started his career in the mid 1970s working at the legendary Power Station studio in New York (now the site of Avatar Studios). After a stint working with Nile Rogers, he went out on his own as a freelance engineer in the 1980s. Since then, he's been one of the most highly respected and in demand engineers in New York, specializing in jazz and improvised music. Although he's made hundreds of records for notable jazz artists, some of longest standing relationships have been with Joe Lovano, Brad Mehldau, John Scofield, Dave Holland, Joshua Redman, and the late Michael Brecker. 

Here he talks about getting started in the record business, the aesthetic and professional choices he makes, the evolution of recording technology, and much more. 

Episode 7: Tatum Greenblatt

Jazz trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt knew what he wanted to do from the first moment he heard the sound of Freddie Hubbard playing on the “Ugetsu” album by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, when he was just a boy. Here he talks about growing up in a jazz house, his early musical mentors, and his general philosophy about professionalism in music. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a few more times: Tatum is one sharp dressed cat.

Stream above or download it from iTunes

5: Matt Pierson, record producer

Matt Pierson is a record producer, and for many years he was a record executive. He started at Blue Note records, and then was in charge of jazz at Warner Bros for over a decade. That tenure ended in the early 2000s, and subsequently he has emerged as one of the few successful  independent jazz record producers around.

As the record business changed in the early 2000s, Matt left his job at a label and ultimately became an independent producer. I was particularly interested to talk with him about how he sees the roll of the producer in the new DIY universe of crowd funding and direct-to-fan marketing. Not surprisingly, he has a lot of ideas about the business today. His personal experience (starting out as a musician, working in record stores, moving to New York and working at Blue Note Records, eventually running Warner Bros jazz, leaving and starting over in a new way) also tells a larger story of what happened to the business of jazz, and in telling it, he delivered some real gems.