The Jazz Gallery Fellowship
The Latest Update
Of Images and Dreams: Jaleel Shaw Speaks
Growing up in Philadelphia’s fertile music scene, Jaleel Shaw began playing alto at an early age, and soon would find himself playing alongside Shirley Scott, Grover Washington, Jr., John Blake and countless other of his city’s legendary artists.
Strong identity on the saxophone has served Shaw both in leader contexts, and as a longtime member of the Roy Haynes Quartet and Tom Harrell’s “Colors of a Dream.” But as an artist and a human being, the multi-instrumentalist and composer has gone through many changes. He recently spent some time reflecting on some of those changes—and their related longings—and conceived of a project inspired by the bare essentials of creative expression.
This weekend, Shaw will present his Images Project, the result of his Jazz Gallery Fellowship. The piece features Lage Lund, Lawrence Fields, Joe Martin and Kush Abadey, and seeks to recapture—or perhaps rouse—raw imagination in all its permutations.
The Jazz Galley: I like to ask artists who grew up in Philly for their personal interpretation of the Philly sound.
Jaleel Shaw: I’ve always felt like the Philly sound was a pretty open and diverse sound. When I came up on the Philly scene, I was around free artists like Byard Lancaster, hip hop groups like The Roots. I played in big bands; I played in mariachi bands. There was a huge organ presence there with Shirley Scott and Trudy Pitts. There was a soul R&B scene there, too. So there were so many different styles going on at the same time that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is.
That’s the thing that I loved about Philly; it was kind of a mix of so many different things, and all the musicians knew each other. All the musicians played together. There was no division amongst the styles—at least, not for me. As a kid, I was playing with so many different groups and coming out of so many different groups that I never really thought of music not being open, or not allowing myself to be inspired by all the different music that was going on, from hip hop to free jazz to R&B—it was all there.
When I was coming up, there was a very conscious presence—black consciousness and African consciousness—a pride of history. So growing up in Philly, I learned the history of the music. And the history of the people was very important.
TJG: A while back I was talking with Dayna Stephens, who made the comment that growing up in the Bay Area, playing all kinds of music or “styles” of music was a requirement—to the point where he was shocked when he moved to New York because it was the first time he experienced some of those harsh divisions; did you have a similar experience when you arrived?
JS: Right. Yeah, I feel like New York is a huge city, and I guess I didn’t get to know all of the musicians like I did back home. In Philly, like I said, I basically knew all the musicians. I knew and played with Shirley Scott; I knew Grover Washington, Jr.; I knew John Blake—that’s how I met Johnathan Blake; I knew The Roots. Everything was just mixed. We were all, it seemed, on the same scene. We would go to each other’s shows, and you could call anyone, anytime to ask a question about the music. It wasn’t until I was older that I really realized how special it was to have had that coming up in Philly.
TJG: In past interviews, you’ve described certain sounds from Philly and also Chicago as “Afrocentric.” Can you talk a little bit about your own interpretation of that concept?
JS: Wow. Where’d you see that?
TJG: I think it was in your blindfold test from a couple years ago.
JS: Wow. Okay. Well, yeah. For one, I grew up in a diverse community, and my mom made sure I learned my history. Every time I go home to visit her, I’m always amazed at how many books she has about everything, but specifically about my culture. And I realized she really immersed me in that, and made sure I understood and embraced it. And in Philly there were many African American events going on, from art shows to dance to poetry. And my mom always took me to those events. There was also something called Odunde, which was the African American festival that we had every year.
TJG: They no longer have it?
JS: It’s still happening. That’s a great festival. There’s a great African American museum in Philly, and I felt like the community was very strong. And it was embracing; it was a community of people teaching the music and teaching the culture, and everyone was welcome to learn it.
I’m sure it’s happening in New York, but I just haven’t seen or experienced it as much. But that may also be due to my activities since moving to the area.
TJG: Also, now you have your associations with people whom you’ve been playing with for years; you have your own projects; you’ve seen the world—and when you were growing up, you hadn’t done any of that yet.
JS: Right. Well I think, as far as that goes—still, as an adult—those things are very, very important. It’s important to continually have that connection. And I definitely think New York has culture. That’s why I’m here. I feel like it’s where I need to be.
I just got a lot of that in Philly. And a lot of it is, like I said, from having a mom that kind of exposed me to everything—not just African and African American cultures, but all kinds of cultures. She exposed me to art—I’ve taken different art classes and gone to art museums. She exposed me to different musical instruments and classical music. I think, for me, there was just a lot of exposure. I got exposed to great things.
TJG: Speaking of exposure, you have had a long association with Roy Haynes. As a result of that association, would you say that the way you take charge of the direction of your playing on the bandstand has changed?
JS: I’ve been playing with him for a long time, but I’ve also been leading my own band for a long time, too. When you’re going through the fire as a leader, there’s some stuff that you just have to do. Regardless of your experiences, you just have to take some kind of control of things. And I think it’s important to hire people who are going to help you do that. It’s important to surround yourself with musicians that ultimately want your message to come across. That comes with playing with musicians that understand your goal as a musician and as an artist.
I think the one thing that I have gotten from Roy—and I might not be able to do it this performance, because this performance is a special thing with specific music I’ve created, all of which I hope to be performing—was to go with the flow. Roy goes with the flow. What I mean by that is, we don’t even know what we’re going to play when we get up on stage with Roy. We never know. I mean, we have an idea based on the songs we’ve played in the past, but from song to song, we’re always feeling out the vibe of the audience.
Honestly, I didn’t quite understand it at first, because I always thought that once you picked the set, you didn’t deviate from that. But playing with Roy, we would go places, and we would be on tour going from gig to gig, different towns. We would talk about what we wanted to play, and sometimes some of the other band members would call out tunes. He would say, “Well what do you want to play first?” and we would call out a tune, and sometimes he would say, “No, we can’t play that because of the vibe of the audience. This isn’t that kind of audience.” I didn’t get it. I always felt like, “We don’t really know what this audience is or wants” But, over time, I started to understand. And it’s not only the vibe of the audience; it’s the vibe of the band, the energy that’s out there—the vibe of the day, the weather. He was always feeling that out.
So from that I learned that it’s okay to deviate from your set completely, if need be. I used to call a set and that was the set, and we’re not playing anything else but these tunes. But now, if the mood isn’t going the way I want it go, I might change something; or, I might just improvise in a spot where the band wasn’t expecting me to improvise; or I might try to have the band come up with something on the spot, just based on the vibe that we’re at.
TJG: This project reflects some time you spent in a different environment. Can you talk a little bit about that environment, and how it has shaped your vision for this project?
JS: Part of this commission included an invitation to spend time at the Marcel Breuer house on the Rockefeller Estate in Tarrytown. I went up there this summer and stayed for about a week. It was a beautiful house on a beautiful estate—different from what I’d expected. I thought I’d be staying in a house in an actual neighborhood where I could go outside the house, walk down the street and go to a coffee shop or go get something to eat. But this was a house in the middle of a park, basically. It was a gated estate that had guards and everything—and I was the only one that was there at night, other than the guards. It was just a huge, huge, huge space. It seemed maybe half the size of Central Park, or something like that. That’s how big this estate was.
There were no lights outside of the house, so at night it would be pitch black. In the daytime, you could see nothing but trees and grass. And there were many different kinds of birds flying around. Just being able to walk around in nature every morning was beautiful. I saw things that I hadn’t seen or maybe paid attention to in a while. I saw a blue jay, and different birds that I don’t really see that often. It was a beautiful thing to wake up to every morning, but I wasn’t used to being so isolated, and not having all my stuff with me—and just being able to have a clear mind. I realized how cluttered my brain was.
I had so many things on my mind, from everything that’s going on in our country right now. The division, the hatred—I knew I was thinking about it. But I didn’t realize my brain was completely swamped—and I was stressed out. The one thing I realized was, as a musician and an artist, I feel like my creativity was kind of limited because of it. I felt like I really wasn’t able to express myself fully. I have a big imagination, and I wanted to get back to that. I wanted to get back to using my imagination and creating music based off of things that I pictured in my head and my dreams—not only based off of things that were going on in the world or things that were happening to me. Composing and expressing yourself based on those things is great and important, but imagination is great, too.
I think the other thing that I thought about was, just with art these days, there is sometimes pressure on the artist to explain in detail what he or she is doing. And I think that sometimes takes away from the imagination of what the art is, especially music. Sometimes some people or presenters want to know, “What is this piece about; what is this piece about?” I guess that makes it easier to promote the performance, but when you’re forced to explain something like that, it can sometimes limit your creativity or imagination.
One thing that attracted me about being a musician, in the beginning, was that it allowed me to express something I was feeling or imagining that I couldn’t explain in words. I could give a piece a name, and I could sit and explain to you what the piece is about, but at the end of the day, it still might not really explain it. And [that explanation] takes the imagination away from the listener, because different music affects us in different ways. Something that may inspire you in one way, may inspire another listener in another way. I can honestly say even my own music means different things to me at different times.
TJG: If you’re just playing something that’s not attached to any words or titles or labels, there’s a good chance both you and the audience are going to be open for it to go different places.
JS: Exactly. That’s exactly what I mean. And it depends on the music. It depends on what it is, because there definitely have been times that I’ve composed music that I wrote based on an experience, an event—love—and that’s all there is to it. Those songs I’ve basically described it in the title. But I have songs that I can’t even give a title to. These are the compositions that have evolving meanings to me. Compositions like these are important too, I think. I think it’s ok to be vague sometimes. I feel as though, emotionally, this music sometimes moves me in ways that maybe a song with a title wouldn’t. And I feel like maybe if I gave those songs a title, it would put it in a specific place, so a person listening would think, “Oh, this is what the song is about,” and now that’s the image that they have in their head.
But we all have different images in our heads when we listen to things or when we see things. So I’ve been thinking about how important imagination is. When it’s somehow limited or controlled, it really limits what the music is. There’s always music that has a story that you can verbalize and put into words—but when you can’t, that’s okay, too.
The Jazz Gallery Fellowship Premiere Dates
We at The Jazz Gallery are pleased to announce the premiere dates for the 2018 Jazz Gallery Fellowship projects from Jaleel Shaw and Lage Lund. Shaw will present his work at The Jazz Gallery on Friday, November 2, and Saturday, November 3, while Lund will present his on Friday, November 30, and Saturday December 1.
Both players have used this opportunity to follow an intuitive compositional path, responding to a variety of inspirations, starting from their residencies at the Marcel Breuer House at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Pocantico Center. Shaw writes of his project: “I wrote about anything that came to mind while being in the house alone… the state of the world… being in an isolated area, not really having much physical contact with anyone… as well as the things I saw outside of the huge window in the living room of the house.”
The extended writing process has allowed Lund to try out new ideas in his compositions. “I have a dozen or so pieces that are ranging from sketches to fully through composed pieces,” says Lund. “I’m finding out how they will fit together structurally and am for the first time considering the idea of adding lyrics. I was reading the letters of Kurt Vonnegut while in Pocantico and his voice became a integral part of the process.”
Tickets for each Fellowship premiere set are $25 general admission ($10 for Jazz Gallery members), $35 reserved cabaret seating ($20 for members) and can be purchased at this link. We hope to see you at the Gallery in November and December for these exciting concerts of new work.
Jaleel Shaw and Lage Lund at Pocantico
As part of The Jazz Gallery Fellowship, our two 2018 recipients—saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and guitarist Lage Lund—will each spend a week at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Pocantico Center in Tarrytown, New York. Both Lund and Shaw are busy sidemen, working with the likes of Roy Haynes, David Sanchez, Maria Schneider, and Tom Harrell. These residencies will give Shaw and Lund rare and much-needed time to devote to their own composing.
For both musicians, the residencies are an opportunity to write without a specific end goal in mind and explore new methods for creativity. Shaw—who just completed his residency—focused on the initial spark of inspiration, coming up with ideas that he could continue to hone after the residency. “I basically wrote down sketches based on my experiences up there,” Shaw writes. “I tried to focus on one a day. I wrote about anything that came to mind while being in the house alone… the state of the world… being in an isolated area, not really having much physical contact with anyone…. as well as the things I saw outside of the huge window in the living room of the house.”
Lund will begin his residency next week, and he too is letting the creative process lead the way, rather than forcing things. Lund writes, “I know from experience that what works best for me is to write without any preconceived notions of what the music is supposed to, or should be. My plan is really to just spend the week writing and recording all day every day to generate as much material as possible—and only after that find a format and concept that will be a good fit for the project.”
During the residency, on July 10, Lund will present a concert with his working quartet, featuring saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Orlando Le Fleming, and drummer Jochen Rueckert. For more information and tickets, click here, and stay tuned for more updates about Shaw’s and Lund’s Fellowship projects.
In our years of nurturing young, emerging artists, it has come to our attention that mid-career artists often struggle to sustain the momentum of their creative output and career trajectory—in particular, those who are better known as contributing band members rather than as bandleaders in their own right. In addition to supporting young artists through programming initiatives, The Gallery seeks to address the relative scarcity of resources dedicated to mid-career artists, who often balance the professional demands of performing, touring, and teaching with additional obligations related to their families (e.g., parenting), which are less likely to affect younger or older artists.
We hope to address this gap by targeting mid-career artists with our new Fellowship program. Participants will receive a residency stipend and commissioning fee to support two composition residency weeks, as well as access to The Jazz Gallery space during off-hours throughout the season for rehearsing, additional composing, and other musical needs. The two-week composition-focused sabbatical will take place at The Pocantico Center in Tarrytown, NY, free from the everyday distractions and professional obligations that mid-career artists face in the city. Fellows will then have the opportunity to workshop their new music at the Gallery prior to their premiere performances. We believe that this opportunity will enable the fellowship recipients to develop potentially career-transforming new works that would otherwise not be possible.
In our inaugural year, we awarded Fellowships to bassist Eric Revis and drummer Johnathan Blake, both top-flight rhythm section sidemen for luminaries such as Tom Harrell and Branford Marsalis, and both fathers raising young children. For our second year of the program in 2018, we are awarding the fellowship to guitarist Lage Lund and saxophonist Jaleel Shaw. Lund and Shaw, both born in 1978, are mainstays on the jazz scene and have extensive sideman credits; they have also been patiently and deliberately establishing careers as leaders over the past decade or so. The Fellowship would afford both artists the financial support ($10,000 in artist stipend and commissioning fee) and logistical freedom (two weeks at the Pocantico Center and access to our space) to focus their time and creative energy on new compositional projects. The Jazz Gallery will present formal premieres of their completed works, and both composers have expressed interest in eventually recording, releasing, and touring in support of these projects.
With this Fellowship program, we hope to strengthen our holistic approach to supporting artists and the art form. Many grant programs, competitions, and critics’ polls highlight emerging improvisers and composers, while high-visibility cultural awards are generally reserved for much older figures in jazz. The Jazz Gallery hopes to address this gap in support for mid-career artists, who are sometimes overshadowed by their elders and junior colleagues while fitting neither the profiles of rising star nor jazz legend favored in the jazz business. By establishing this Fellowship program, the Gallery hopes also to draw attention to this deficiency, setting a precedent to inspire other organizations to devote greater resources for mid-career artists as well.
Lage Lund Trio
Lage Lund – guitar
Matt Brewer – bass
Justin Falkner – drums
Performing “Aquanaut.” This work sample opens with a beautiful solo by Lage, in which he exhibits masterful command of the instrument as well as his unique melodic and harmonic sensibilities. At 3:00, the composed section of the piece begins. Lage’s compositions are subtle and understated, indicating the depth of his experience and artistic maturity.
Jaleel Shaw Quartet
Jaleel Shaw – alto saxophone
Lawrence Fields – piano
Boris Kozlov – bass
Johnathan Blake – drums
This track is from Jaleel’s third album as a leader, “The Sound Track of Things to Come.” Jaleel masterfully and passionately expresses himself through his writing and the tune is a great example: his compositional and technical knowledge serves him rather than being caught up in theory and new approaches. Jaleel is a dynamic improvisor. His solo starts at 3:48.
Eric Revis Trio
Eric Revis – bass
Kris Davis – piano
Andrew Cyrille – drums
Eric Revis is one of 2017 Jazz Gallery Fellows. The track “Harry Partch Laments the Dying of the Moon…And The Laughs” is from his third album as a leader.
Start and End Dates
01/01/2018 — 12/31/2018
New York, New York