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Here’s a nice article Donald Elfman wrote for AAJ profiling the label…

Posi-Tone Records

by Donald Elfman

Posi-Tone Records is an extraordinary anomaly in these times, an independent, thriving jazz label that continues to find new and established musicians and works continually to improve each aspect of production to release a final product of superior quality. As the market has changed the company has sought and accepted new ways to do business that skillfully blend technology and artistry. And, as Free notes, “we work with musicians and try to make improvements to our process by keeping an eye on current and future developments.”

Marc Free is a lifelong musician from the Los Angeles area, but his passion for jazz and its history as an art form—that included amassing a huge collection of records and books—eventually compelled him to choose “becoming less of a player and more of a record producer” once he realized that his “whole musical journey up to that point was simply preparation for becoming a better producer.” He certainly had help along the way. Mentored as a teenager by multi-instrumentalist Victor Feldman, he was later fortunate to spend “invaluable time with the patriarchs of the LA jazz scene,” pianist/composer Horace Tapscott and drummer Billy Higgins.

In 1994, Free enlisted the assistance of audio engineer and fellow musician Jamie Brunson to help him build a studio and start producing recordings for the Posi-Tone label. Initially, the label was kind of a side project to his own musical activities—playing, promoting shows, etc.—and the label released just a few titles each year. The early releases were focused on documenting the jazz scene in Los Angeles, including titles by Donald Dean, Joe Gaeta and Edwing, before culminating in the making of the Sam Rivers CD Celebration, recorded live by Free and Brunson at LA’s Jazz Bakery in 2003. Free states: “I had been a fan and friend of Sam’s for many years and I thought ‘How many 80th birthdays does he get to have?’ And his band was just amazing with Sam, Doug Mathews and Anthony Cole all playing a host of instruments.”

In 2004, what Free describes as the “second phase” of the label’s history began with the arrival of a new partner, audio engineer Nick O’Toole. Together the two men developed a new business plan for a 21st century jazz label with a kind of visionary operations model that implements a fusion of sound business principles and artistic relevance. Says Free, “In developing our business model, we analyzed the operations of the other jazz labels whose work we admired. Among other conclusions, we decided that it was important to avoid pigeonholing the label artistically into any one specific genre of jazz. We also acknowledged that we would need to go farther afield to find our artists. So now we travel out to New York three or four times a year to scout talent and do the sessions necessary to produce the wider variety of recordings we are interested in releasing.”

Trombonist Steve Davis is about to record his second outing for the label. “I had met Marc Free when I was with Jackie McLean’s sextet in 1995. We didn’t get to work together till many years later but in working with him I’ve found a label that is truly in it for the music first of all. Marc and his partners trust the artists but at the same time have definite ideas about what makes the music and how it’s presented most appealingly to the consumer. …They strike me as quite personally invested in their projects and will work harder.”

Posi-Tone presents a concise philosophy of its approach to the art of recording in their online mission statement and is always looking for ways to improve their product and business model while seeking to implement even further what Free calls a “vertical integration” of the company. In 2008, they decided to bring aboard businessman Barry Shapiro, whose assistance has been crucial in dealing with the challenges presented by the label’s expansion of production while in the midst of dealing with the current economic realities of the marketplace, in what the partners feel is the third and newest phase in Posi-Tone’s progress.

The label’s primary focus is still the artist. Pianist Jeremy Manasia met Free and O’Toole through Ryan Kisor (who was playing on Posi-Tone’s recording by pianist Spike Wilner) and the label became interested in a project that Manasia was about to do. It became After Dark, a 2009 radio favorite that features singer Jane Monheit on one track. Manasia is quite overwhelmed by the label. “I think what those guys are doing is amazing. They are really in it for the love of the music and their catalogue is growing month by month. It’s remarkable!”

To date, the label not only has a catalogue of fine, well-produced recordings but also a growing roster. This year has already seen several new releases including discs from guitarist Yotam Silberstein, saxophonist David Binney and keyboardist Sam Yahel. Before the year is out, we can expect projects from saxists Mike DiRubbo, Ralph Bowen, Sean Nowell, Sean Lyons and Dan Pratt, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist David Gibson, guitarist Avi Rothbard with saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, organist Jared Gold, drummer David Ashkenazy, the collaborative group Playdate and more!

Posi-Tone, with its innovative and future-oriented approach and its roster of creative players and composers, is a label that blends passion, business acumen and respect for artistry. Free echoes this attitude: “With so many talented musicians on the scene today, with so much new and creative music to make, we are excited about the future. …We believe it’s equally vital to help younger musicians grow and mature as it is to revitalize and document the careers of the established musicians if the art form is to grow and thrive.”

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Astoria Times Interview with Sean Nowell…

Seeking to expand

European travels infuse Astoria jazzman’s album with a world of intrigue

By Morgan Rousseau

Thursday, September 10, 2009 9:16 AM EDT
Sean Nowell may be seeking truth in locations around the globe, but he’s still proud to call Astoria home.
Tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell recently released his second album, “The Seeker,” an introspective compilation of acoustically driven ballads, each driven by the personal experiences of the composer.

Originally from Birmingham, Ala., the Astoria-based musician credits the colorful stories of his life as the driving force behind “The Seeker,” citing his time in Eastern Europe in particular as having a strong impact on the tracks.

“The album is all about my experience traveling and meeting people from various walks of life. A lot of those tracks have a story behind them,” Nowell said.

The title of the album speaks about Nowell’s sense of wanting to get out into the world and see new things, which over the past decade he has been able to do, thanks to his work as musical director for The Bond Street Theatre. The gig includes traveling around the world to perform in the name of humanitarian outreach for refugees of war.

Nowell describes this work as “conflict resolution theater” that is both fun and dangerous. Much of the theater’s purpose is to encourage self-expression in places where it is suppressed. This creative venture ended up generating material for Nowell’s own self-expression in “The Seeker.”

“I tend to write my strongest material by thinking of personal experiences that I’ve had,” Nowell said. “It’s all about writing about an experience, writing for somebody I’ve met in my journeys.”

“The Seeker” opens with the track “New York Vibe,” which Nowell wrote before he moved to New York City. He composed the music based on his expectations of the city, and having lived here for 13 years, he feels the music is spot on in reflecting the New York vibe.

The third track “Yo Matze Matze” is inspired by a traditional Bulgarian folk song Nowell picked up while building a set for a production of “Romeo and Juliet” with Bond Street Theatre in Bulgaria.

“Bulgarian folk music had a lot of influence on my compositional style,” Nowell said. “There are all kinds of stories going on in that song, like driving through really crazy, war-torn parts of Kosovo where we almost got kidnapped.” Again, both fun and dangerous.

The fourth track, “Dunavski Park,” was written in Serbia, and is about Nowell’s time spent in a park of the same name, where he brewed home-made barbeque sauce and connected with people he describes as “amazing” and “impressed” by his sauce-making abilities.


Pianist Art Hirahara and drummer Joe Abbatantuono return for their second recording with Nowell in “The Seeker” after having worked with Nowell on his debut album “Fire Werks” (2007). Bassist Thomson Kneeland, cellist David Eggar and guitarist Nir Felder also show off their musical stylings in “The Seeker.”

When contrasting his 2007 album to “The Seeker,” Nowell says the album is more acoustically driven and “straight-ahead jazz-oriented” whereas “Fire Werks” was more electro-acoustic.

Nowell’s Birmingham roots infused him with the Southern traditions of blues, gospel, jazz and funk before he journeyed to Berklee College of Music in Boston to study jazz composition. Afterwards he earned his master’s in arts from the Manhattan School of Music and signed on with Bond Street Theatre. But after all his world experience, he’s learned the best place to be is right here in Queens.

“It made me realize that I like being in New York the most — where it’s safe,” Nowell said. “Queens totally rules. Everyone that thinks Brooklyn is where it’s at is sadly mistaken.”

Nowell regularly performs at New York jazz hot spots like The 55 Bar on Christopher Street and Smalls Jazz Club on West 10th Street and 7th Avenue. As for the future, Nowell is currently working on setting up tour dates in Eastern Europe and also in the United States.

“I’m looking forward to bringing New York with me. Its about to happen, I’m really very excited about that,” Nowell said.

“The Seeker” (Posi-Tone Records) is available on online at the Posi-Tone Records Web site. Tour dates and information on live performances are available at


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Take Five With Sean Nowell

Meet Sean Nowell:
Sean Nowell is a tenor saxophonist and composer from Birmingham, Alabama steeped in the southern traditions of blues, gospel, jazz, and funk fused with the complex harmonic and world rhythmic concepts that permeate the music of New York City.

While in Alabama, he sang in cathedrals with a national touring a cappella choir and was exposed to vocal music from Germany, Eastern Europe, and Africa. He received a BA in Composition from Berklee College of Music in Boston in Jazz Composition and a MA from Manhattan School of Music in New York in Performance.

He has composed and improvised film scores, music for ballet and theatre, 20th century classical music, big band, and small jazz ensembles and has pushed the timbral boundaries of the saxophone, flute, bass clarinet, and Udu (Nigerian clay pot drum) by integrating electronic effects pedals with those acoustic instruments.

He has traveled and collaborated with dancers, actors, painters, stilt walkers, and acrobats on multiple tours of China, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia, Romania, France, Germany, Hungary, Holland, Belgium, Colombia, Venezuela, Singapore and the United States as Musical Director for Bond Street Theatre over the past decade. He’s participated in uniting clashing religious and ethnic groups in Kosovo through music and has been proud to serve as an unofficial artistic ambassador for the United States by exchanging social and artistic ideas and holding master classes in these countries on American Jazz, learning the folk music of the regions, and then incorporating it into his compositional and improvisational style.

He has had performances with Guitarist Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie Tin Machine), bassist Tim Lefebvre (Rudder, Saturday Night Live, trumpeter Chris Botti), saxophonist Donny McCaslin (Dave Douglas), drummer Anton Fig (David Letterman, everyone else from the past 25 years!).

He also recorded with Stanley Clarke and George Duke for the movie Soul Men starring Bernie Mac and Samuel Jackson, and co-wrote the score for the Nick Nolte movie Off the Black.

Sean Nowell has been a motivating force in the New York City jazz community for the past 12 years by hosting weekly jazz composers forums in Manhattan and Brooklyn clubs that consistently showcase the freshest and most cutting edge jazz in the city, as well as collaborating and recording with the next generation of jazz, funk, and avant-garde masters.

His first release, Firewerks, was born from these weekly sessions and has garnered critical acclaim for the band’s highly interactive and rhythmically adventuresome approach that got him immediately signed as a Posi-Tone Records Recording Artist.

Every track on his second release for Posi-Tone Records, The Seeker, is an expression of the fantastic and dangerous experiences collected over the past decade of exploring the less traveled corners of the planet as well as his journey toward self realization and features cellist Dave Eggar (Evanescence, Michael Brecker, saxophonist Chris Potter) and guitarist Nir Felder (Greg Osby).

His critically acclaimed electric project, The Kung-Fu Masters, is taking New York audiences by storm with its FX-driven jazz/funk that has featured drummer Cliff Almond (Michel CamiloJeff Golub, bassist Anthony Jackson, guitarist Wayne Krantz), bassist Janek Gwizdala (Mike SternRandy Brecker, Jojo Mayer), guitarist Nir Felder and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt (Cedar WaltonRavi ColtraneJimmy Heath).

Sean is also part of some of the most creative, forward thinking ensembles in the city including Travis Sullivan‘s Bjorkestra (all Bjork jazz-tronica big band), The Delphian Jazz Orchestra, the Yutaka Uchida Quartet and performs regularly in the top jazz clubs in New York City including the Blue Note, Smalls, The 55 Bar, The Jazz Standard, BB Kings, Birdland, Cleopatra’s Needle, the Knitting Factory, and Zebulon as well as international jazz clubs such as Club JZ (Shanghai), CD Jazz (Beijing), Café Plato (Belgrade) and has played the JVC Jazz Festival, the San Francisco Jazz Festival and for 30,000 people at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet.

Teachers and/or influences?
Jerry BergonziGeorge Garzone, Ed Tomassi, Neil McLean.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when…
I improvised for the first time in high school jazz band at 15 years old. I think my head actually caught on fire.

“Tenor saxophonist/composer Sean Nowell fuses introspective melodies, darkly hued harmonies and angular rhythmic structures to create a sound that has succeeded at melding, morphing and mixing the best of Blue Note-era small group nirvana with the Headhunters’ pocket and vibe, evolving it to Right Now.”

Your teaching approach:
Fun. Interactive. Personalized. Classical duets. Learning scales by improvising and composing. Playing solo transcriptions slowly and listening to the recordings closely.

Your dream band:
I only work with people that I would want to be in a van for 8 hours with.

They’ve gotta be fun to hang with and enthusiastic about the music.

I love playing with my friends that I play with now.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
Worst: Got punched in the mouth in Bulgaria by a mobster for playing in a forest 60 yards away from the hotel at the Black Sea during quiet hours (2-4pm).

Best: Playing for 30,000 people on the main stage of the Montreal Jazz Festival 2008 with the Bjorkestra.

Favorite venue:
The 55 Bar is my home.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
The Seeker..

The first Jazz album I bought was:
I was at jazz camp at Loyola, New Orleans and they told me to immediately get Kind of Blue and Giant Steps,still two of the freshest albums I own. Truly the gift that keeps on giving.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
A good, fun attitude toward all this. If we are having a good time, everyone else will as well.

Did you know…
I almost became a Southern Baptist music Minister.

CDs you are listening to now:
John Coltrane, “Liberia” (just the one song, over and over).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Inclusive. Forward thinking. Open minded. Supercharged. At least that’s the circles I run in….

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Being inclusive, forward thinking, open minded, and supercharged!

What is in the near future?
I’m loving playing music here in NYC and hanging with my fantastic Broadway Musical Theater actress wife and our friends and teaching my enthusiastic and talented students. Also I’m working on finally getting some dates in Europe with various bands.

Life is good!

By Day:
I teach one-on-one, in-home private students three days a week and am loving it.

If I weren’t a jazz musician, I would be a:
A psychologist or a ninja.

Your sound and approach to music:
John ColtraneWayne ShorterDexter Gordon, Wayne Krantz, Herbie Hancock, Bulgarian Mysteries.


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Interview with Yotam Silberstein…

Published: 10 July 2009
Yotam Silberstein

A slender, wide-eyed young man entered the back room of an East Village wine bar called 10 Degrees on a recent Tuesday, lugging and unzipping a dark guitar case.

With the burnish on his orange instrument absorbing the soft overhead lights, Yotam Silberstein uncorked a swirl of Hebrew.

“Do my friends have seats in the main room?” asked Silberstein of the bar owner, motioning towards a couple on a nearby couch.

“Maybe in 15 minutes,” replied the owner, also in Hebrew.

“Al tidag” — don’t worry — said one of Silberstein’s seated friends. “We can sit back here.”

A Tel Aviv-born guitarist, Silberstein is one of a growing cadre of Israeli musicians living in the New York area. A soft-spoken resident of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Silberstein will celebrate the release of his second album, “Next Page,” at the legendary Smalls Jazz Club on July 19.

“Next Page” is the long-awaited follow-up to Silberstein’s first album, “The Arrival,” which came out in 2003.

“The albums are similar, but it’s funny because when I listen to [“Next Page”] I’m very proud of myself. I’ve improved so much and I know that the next record will be even better,” said Silberstein (, who plans to record his next disc in the fall.

The band Silberstein commissioned to play on “Next Page” — saxophonist Chris Cheek, organist Sam Yahel, and drummer Willie Jones III — completed the recording in a single day, despite never having played together before rehearsing for the album.

“It took about five or six hours to record,” said Silberstein. “This band never played or performed together, but I’ve known all the players for a while, and it’s something I had in mind.”

Belying the band’s group inexperience is the disc’s cohesion: Yahel’s organ infuses “Borsht,” the album’s first track, with a warm, casual swing. “Ani Eshtagea” (“I will go crazy”), a Venezuelan standard long ago adopted by Israel, takes its frenetic cues from the cutting cymbal work of the drummer Jones.

The two tracks are call-outs to Silberstein’s heritage. He picked up guitar when he was 10, focusing at first on rock and blues. He gained entry to the Alon High School for the Arts in Ramat HaSharon, where he began the transition to jazz.

“I slowly started to get into it,” Silberstein said. “I had a teacher who got me really interested.” Under renowned instructors Walter Blanding and Amit Golan, Silberstein won a slew of local music competitions.

After high school, Silberstein embarked upon his first stint in New York City. Predictably, he spent most of his time playing and studying jazz, this time under the guidance of luminaries like Barry Harris and Kurt Rosenwinkel.

Before leaving for New York, however, Silberstein had auditioned to serve as a musician in the Israel Defense Forces. At 18, he returned to Israel to enlist for three years as a musical director, arranger, and lead guitarist. A 21-year-old Silberstein placed first in a national jazz competition in 2003, and qualified along with his trio to perform at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy.

Later that year, Silberstein released “The Arrival” on Fresh Sound New Talent Records. The album met with critical acclaim, and Silberstein began an extensive tour of Europe and the Middle East.

In 2005, Silberstein received a scholarship to study at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. In September of that year, he was selected as one of the top 10 guitarists to participate in the semifinals of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition.

In four years of study — Silberstein graduated in May — he developed as a solo act and a sideman, compiling a résumé that boasts supporting roles alongside Roy Hargrove, James Moody, Peter Bernstein, and others.

Like a true lead player, Silberstein’s primary concern is promoting work as a leader.

“The gigs that I would like to get people to come to are my own,” said Silberstein, who speaks with a thick Israeli accent. “I’m trying to promote my [own] thing.”

Ironically, Israel has proven the most difficult place for Silberstein to sell his music. Although he and other Israeli musicians in Brooklyn have long been recording and collaborating, Silberstein has yet to find distribution for “Next Page” in Israel.

Digital copies of the album will be available on Silberstein’s Website, Amazon, iTunes, and eMusic, but fans in his homeland — including his own family — will not be able to buy “Next Page” in stores.

Lining the shelves in Israel, Silberstein said, is a project for another day. As he noted with a long exhale, “It’s hard to take care of so much stuff.”


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Take Five With Yotam Silberstein

Meet Yotam Silberstein:
Yotam Silberstein was born and raised in Tel-Aviv, Israel. He started playing guitar at the age of 10, focusing mostly on rock and blues.

At the age of 15 Yotam was accepted to the prestigious Alon high school for the arts where he studied jazz with such great teachers as Walter Blanding and Amit Golan. During his high school years Yotam won many local competitions and was heralded as a very promising young guitarist.

After finishing high school he relocated to New York City performing regularly and studying with jazz greats Barry Harris and Kurt Rosenwinkel.

At the age of 18, Yotam served his country by joining the IDF (Israel’s Army) where he served as a musical director, arranger and lead guitarist for 3 years. During his military service he gained recognition and began playing with many of Israel’s top jazz musicians

At 21 Yotam won the prestigious “Israeli jazz player of the year” competition with his trio, and was asked to perform in Italy at the renowned Umbria Jazz Festival.

The same year Yotam released his debut record on the Fresh Sound New Talent record label called, The Arrival. The success of his highly acclaimed album enabled him to extensively tour throughout Europe and the Middle East.

In August of 2005 Yotam received a scholarship to study at the New School for jazz and contemporary music in New York City. Yotam is a regular on the jazz scene performing in many of the city’s great venues with great artists like: James Moody, Curtis Fuller, Louis Hayes, Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess, Junior Mance, James Spaulding, Roy Hargrove, Pat Martino, Jorge Rossy, John Faddis, Greg Hutchinson, Antonio Hart, Slide Hampton, Avishai Cohen, Kenny Barron, Peter Bernstein, to name a few.

In September of 2005 Yotam was selected as one of 10 top guitar players to participate in the semi finals of the distinguished Thelonious Monk guitar competition.

In 2009 Yotam released his new album Next Page on Posi-Tone Records, featuring Chris Cheek on saxophone, Sam Yahel on Hammond B3 and Willie Jones III on drums.




Teachers and/or influences?
J.S Bach, Charlie Parker, Chico Buarque, James Moody, BB King, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stevie Wonder, Keith Jarrett, Clare Fischer, Joao Gilberto, Guinga, Sonny Rollins, Chopin, Herbie Hancock, Maurice Ravel, Matti Caspi, Ryiad Al Sunbaty, Sasha Argov, Shlomo Artzi, Astor Piazzolla.


I knew I wanted to be a musician when…
I got my first guitar and started playing around with it. It all seemed so magical. Since then I’ve been unable to stop.


Your teaching approach:
It must be fun. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.


Your dream band:
I really want to play with Stevie Wonder.


Favorite venue:
Playing in different venues in Russia has always been a very pleasant experience. People there are very appreciative of music and art. Also, playing in Israel, my homeland, is always special for me.


Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
I definitely feel very connected to my new album, Next Step, because it represents where I am now, and the band sounds great.


The first Jazz album I bought was:
Grant Green, Grantstand (Blue Note). I still love this record so much.


What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
That’s for others to say.


CDs you are listening to now:
Albert King, Born Under a Bad Sign;
Chico Buarque, Uma Palavra;
Django Reinhardt, Classic Early Recordings;
Eddie Harris, With Jimmy Smith;
Farid El Atrache, King of the Oud.


Desert Island picks:
Changes all the time:
Antonio Carlos Jobim, Inedito;
Riyad Al Sunbaty, Ashwaq;
Sonny Rollins, A Night at the Village Vanguard;
Chico Buarque, Paratodos;
BB King and Bobby Bland, Together.


What is in the near future?
Working on a new record, performing with my band. I’m featured on a new recording to be released soon with the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Big Band.


By Day:
Practicing, composing, gigging, reading, yoga, listening to music, cooking, watching movies, hanging out with friends, and mostly trying to figure out how to be a better musician/person.


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Interview with Jeremy Manasia

Jazz pianist and composer Jeremy Manasia has already had quite an accomplished career. Having trained at New York’s prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (i.e. the school that inspired the movie Fame) and been a finalist for the Thelonius Monk Competition, he has since toured the world as a musician and played with such jazz luminaries as Charles Owens, Peter Bernstein, Ryan Kisor, Chris Potter, Marlena Shaw, Diane Schurr, and The Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Jeremy has also adopted the mantle of bandleader and recorded two albums of his own compositions. His latest one, After Dark, features Jeremy backed by two of New York’s finest jazz stalwarts, Barak Mori and Charles Ruggiero, and includes guest performances by two other notable jazzbos, Jane Monheit and Ian Hendrickson-Smith.

In the midst of a busy performance and teaching schedule (he’s a faculty member at Manhattan School of Music), Jeremy swung by the ol’ blog to talk about the roots of creativity, what it’s like to influence young minds, and his budding career as a film composer. Check it out…

(Editor’s Note: It should be stated, for the record, that Jeremy is also an old friend of this blog and its author. We went to high school together, way back in the day. FYI.)

Dude, I remember back in high school when you looked and dressed like a headbanger. You certainly didn’t look like someone who played jazz. How’d you first get interested in jazz?

High school and mom. I went to LaGuardia High School for piano, and as a piano major you need to take up a secondary instrument. I wanted to play saxophone, and was given the oboe. After a year I wanted out, and switched to double bass. This left a hole in my schedule, so I was tossed into the jazz history class (a senior level elective course) taught by Justin DiCioccio. This ultimately was an experience that would change the direction of my life forever.

My mom was also a jazz singer at this time, and was performing around New York City with very prominent jazz musicians like Harold Mabern, Ira Coleman and Bob Cranshaw. So all of a sudden I was surrounded by jazz everywhere. I also had a private piano teacher at the time, Peter Vianni, from Staten Island who was a jazz player and started to show me some voicing and improvisation techniques.

Yeah, I was a headbanger for a while. I came up on rock ‘n’ roll and folk music. Around the house I was hearing The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, The Stones, Bob Dylan, and also some early disco like Chaka Kahn and Donna Summer. Later on I became really influenced by The Beatles and John Lennon. I was really affected by John Lennon’s death, seeing how hard it hit everyone.

I naturally progressed into some more modern and harder rock, like Van Halen and Rush, and eventually got deep into the 80s metal scene, listening to bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Judas Priest, long hair, leather jackets, and studs. After I was turned onto jazz, I went through a segue period where I was listening to artists like Pat Metheny and John Scofield.

When I look back at it all though, it does make sense, as all American music – rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, country, funk – it all comes from the blues.

Tell us about your new album, After Dark.

I’m really happy with my new record, After Dark. It has compositions of mine that span over a decade of my writing, and were carefully chosen for this date. The final track on the record, “Afterthought,” I actually wrote in college, more than 15 years ago. “Jerry’s Blues” is also an oldie, from around ’97, ’98. Most of the others are from the past two to five years.

I was really happy about the lineup on this record. Charles Ruggiero is one of my oldest friends, and someone whom I have played a lot of music with in my life. He was getting ready to move to L.A., where he is now, and I wanted to make sure we got this date in before he left. And Barak Mori was the obvious first choice for bassist, for the hookup he and Charles have, and his great vibe. Both of those guys took the music really seriously, and worked their butts off to play their best on this record. I could tell from the first rehearsal how good this was going to turn out, and how they were going to give their all in the studio. It made me make sure to kick it up a notch when we got in to the studio.

Ironically, we had done a quartet date with Ian Hendrickson-Smith the week before, in the same studio, with the same rhythm section. As it turned out, Ian was not going to use the material from that session, so I thought it would be a great idea to include one of the tracks on After Dark, and that’s how Ian, and “Soul Eyes,” made it on the record. Which also thrilled me, because Ian is also one of my older friends that I have made a lot of music with over the years.

The record was recorded by Glenn Forrest, who is an unknown master of his craft. He is an engineer of a dying breed; the ones who don’t look at computer screens, but LISTEN to the track as it is being made. He gives great care, and has great knowledge on how to get the best possible sounds, and always does. There is no one that I would have felt more comfortable in the studio, than with G-Bleuy. He is just the man, and made a great sounding record.

About six months after it was recorded, I ended up signing a deal with Posi-Tone records to release After Dark . Posi-Tone is a L.A. based jazz record company who have been putting out great records for the past few years. Once the wheels got rolling everything slowly came together. The Jane [Monheit] recording session, the cover art, Eric Reed wrote the liner notes, and Charles and Nick O’Toole (co-founder of Posi-Tone) mixed the record in L.A.

After Dark is the record I always wanted to make, with some of my best friends, playing a variety of different compositions of mine, and a couple of standard compositions.
“After Dark”

“After Dark”

Jane Monheit does some guest vocals on the album. How’d you get her on board?

Jane’s husband and drummer, Rick, is old friends with the drummer on my record, Charles. They have all been great friends for a long time. And I have known them as well, just not as close as Charles. After we had recorded the music for After Dark, Charles really loved a song I wrote, then called “Chrisantics,” dedicated to my old teacher, Chris Anderson. Charles said, “I’m going to write lyrics to that song, and get Jane to sing it…” And lo and behold, “When You Smile” was born, and Jane did it. She was really amazing to work with, very professional, and just an amazing singer. The melody on “When You Smile” has a very large range and is very difficult to sing, but it just fit like a glove to Jane. I’m really happy and grateful to have her on the record, it really adds a nice special touch.

As a musician, who are some of your influences and inspirations?

An artist’s influences and inspirations fluctuate throughout the course of his/her life, and I can certainly say that what influences me today is drastically different from what did 10, 15 or 20 years ago.

That being said, the music that pulled me completely into jazz-dom was John Coltrane and his pianist McCoy Tyner. That was the first jazz that I really fell in love with. Albums like Crescent, Live at Birdland, and Coltrane were records I wore out and listened to multiple times daily.

After the fall into jazz-dom, I started expanding my listening and became influenced by pianists Sonny Clark, Wynton Kelly and Red Garland. This was during college, and I spent a lot of time with the great Blue Note records of the 50s and 60s by Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Dexter Gordon etc., that frequently had these pianists on them, as well as McCoy, and Herbie Hancock.

During the years that I was studying in Holland, my musical influences started to really expand, and at the same time that I was being turned onto Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett, I was really learning a lot from listening and transcribing Bud Powell and studying with Barry Harris, and Dutch pianist Franz Elsan. Also around this time I was exposed to the piano music of Maurice Ravel, which has made a lasting effect on my life.

Through the years there have been so many varied musical influences, from Stevie Wonder and Donnie Hathaway to Billie Holliday and Sarah Vaughn to Duke Ellington and Thad Jones, to Robert Johnson and Ghanayan drumming. Nowadays, things other than music are greatly influencing the way I approach music. The work and philosophy of Jackson Pollock is very close to me right now, dealing with art and creativity coming from the unconscious. Also my zen practice is very influential to learning how to completely and fully express myself through art in a sincere way.

What, if anything, are you trying to achieve or communicate with your work?

I’m trying to achieve a state of total and pure expression. Ravel said that the real aim, the ultimate concern, is fullness and sincerity of expression. It is a personal struggle and spiritual path to allow myself to be honest and open in my expression, despite all of the inner critical voices. I believe a human’s greatest joy in life is to creatively express themselves, in any shape or form. There is always an open door in front of us every moment of our lives to be completely sincere in our expression, whether telling someone to screw off, showing kindness, creating art, anything. It is our greatest desire to be ourselves, fully, without any inhibitions. And I know that the people who have affected me the most have been the ones who have lived their lives in this way.

Nelson Mandela said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” This is my path as an artist and as a person. And I find that the older I get, the more and more simple the message becomes. There are no limits to the imagination, and less is usually more. So there is this search for the boundless simplification. Like when you hear a tune like “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington, or “Don’t Let Me Down” by John Lennon. They are so simple, yet you have to ask yourself, “Where did they FIND THAT!” Duke Ellington said that every day he is looking for a melody. He’s never sure where or when he will find it. But from the moment he wakes up to the moment he falls asleep, he is searching, constantly looking.

You also teach budding musicians. How’d you first get into that and what do you like about it?

Teaching is a way of directly giving back all that I am thankful for having received from music. It is really a position of service, of giving and guiding.

Also, teaching is quite frequently an experience of looking into a mirror, and can be very challenging, while maintaining integrity for what you teach, with staying open enough for a teaching to enter yourself. I constantly learn from my students.

Teaching constantly challenges me to remind myself who I am, and to maintain the integrity of who I am and allow openness for this other person, this other expression that may be drastically different from myself.

The job of a teacher is to open someone up to the creative expression in the abstract that is within them. Yes, there are definitely techniques, and formalities that must be worked on and learned, and mastered. And these are tools that are acquired to be a vessel that can freely express him/her self, beyond the technique.

At the right moments, a teacher also needs to know when to give a kick in the ass, to keep the student straight. Because what we are dealing with here, is pretty serious business, actually. When you start talking about true sincere expression with no limits, you are treading on sacred ground. Ground that has been tread on by many past masters, who have shown us the many ways. So it is important to be able to see when a student may be being lazy, or goofing off, and provide a good ass kicking.

Don’t get me wrong, it is all about fun, and reaching a point of real good feeling, warm groovy goodness. But that stuff is the most serious stuff there is, and can’t be taken for granted. We should be serious about having a good time, and making that warm groovy goodness with, and for, everyone we contact.

On top of everything else, you’re a budding film composer. Why film music?

Because I love movies. That simple.

As a child, movie music greatly affected me, probably more than I even realize. I would really get lost in movies, and hearing the music (when it is done well) brings you right back there. C’mon, Star Wars, Raiders, Superman… awesome music.

And also, the musician these days needs to have a little more versatility, besides just being a player. I love to write, I love the movies, and I get great joy out of putting music to a scene. It’s like being a child again.

Posted on Leave a comment review of Consequences

Review by Brad Walseth

Upon my first listen to young British pianist’s Consequences, I admit that I found the music to be of a strident nature and frankly quite obtuse. But I figured that any recording recommended by Jason Moran and featuring such fine players as alto saxophonist David Binney, bassist Matt Brewer, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and drummer Tyshawn Sorey would be worth a second listen, and I am glad I made this decision, because although the music is at times further “out there” than I generally care to go, the intelligence and power of the compositions, combined with the stellar interaction of he players, results in an intriguing and rewarding listen.

Escreet’s compositions are examples of challenging modern avant garde with moments of intensity and beauty contained within, while his playing combines odd shifts and unusual tangents often culminating in pounded keys of tone clusters. The three-part “The Suite of Consequences” opens things up in a flurry of changing moods and shifting directions. Akinimusire adds a wonderful trumpet solo, Escreet skitters across the keys, Sorey adds what sounds to be tympani while Binney paints delicious touches with some choice applied electronics. Part Two opens with Brewer on bowed bass leading into a breathy Binney solo that relentlessly increases in power over a weighty theme. Another great solo showcase for the always fascinating player. More masterful electronics, angular piano and propulsive drumming leads into Part Three, where the band leaps into avant bop that unexpectedly deconstructs into chaos, which in turn resolves into unaccompanied African-influenced melodic counterpoint between the horn players before the band kicks back in before the piano leads the way back into a bop outro. Clearly the composer is a man of catholic tastes, and this is exciting music meant to shake the listener’s sensibilities.

The wonderful composition, “Wayne’s World” follows and is perhaps my favorite number on the release. Reverently referencing Wayne Shorter’s compositional style, but in Escreet’s own manner, it again features Binney on another exceptional solo (truly my favorite alto player working today). Akinimusire adds a tasty solo over Sorey’s expressive drumming and Escreet’s piano support (that surprisingly is both romantic and angular at the same time). “Dilemma” is a sultry number with Escreet sparkling on Fender Rhodes. Brewer solos nicely on this more conventional Latin-flavored piece, as does Akinimusire, and props should be given to Sorey for his excellent work on the skins.

Things return to the strange and mysterious on “Somewhere Between Dreaming and Sleeping” which floats into ECM territory with electronic atmospherics, layers of piano barrages that at times hint strongly at Escreet’s classical training and produce an interesting and somewhat unnerving listening experience. Showing another of his influences, Escreet chooses to end his debut with a lovely solo rendering of Andrew Hill’s “No Doubt.” “Consequences”‘ forays into the fringes of tonality won’t be for everyone’s liking, but it is a compelling first release from a young pianist, and one that will provide a sonic thrill ride for those so inclined to hop onboard.