Where are you from and how did you first get into playing bass & composing?
I grew up in Connecticut, a typical kid into BMX biking, skateboarding and breakdancing. My parents had me taking piano lessons since an early age as well. After 10 years, I became disenchanted and ultimately I quit. By the time of high school I was full time into sports playing soccer, baseball, tennis, golf and even wrestling. But one day everything changed when I was in a paintball accident and lost sight in my right eye. It was traumatic and I couldn’t play any sports for a while after that. That’s when a musician friend suggested I go out and buy a bass and join their rock band. Well the rest is history.
Like a lot of musicians, I got deep into rock music in high school and then really in to jazz and world music later. In college I lived in Spain for a year in Sevilla where I really began to develop an appreciation for the sounds of flamenco and North African music. After college, I moved to Chicago for the jazz scene and through all this time I was still playing, studying and performing with as many international musicians as possible.
As a composer, I’ve always been interested in merging and blending international styles of music while staying rooted in the freedom of jazz. I have released five albums of original material: Two for the Road, Mozaic, Passport and Departures and just recently my 5th from the Trade Winds Cuba project.
When did you first get into the NYC jazz scene and what were your impressions of it?
After 9 years working on the scene in Chicago, playing a lot of straight ahead jazz, recording my original material, traveling extensively to places like Brazil, Japan, Portugal and Colombia to immerse myself in those musical cultures, the next logical place to be was New York. I moved there in 2006 living in the East Village on 3rd street as close as possible to the clubs like Joe’s Pub, Smalls, 55 Bar, Blue Note.
By that time my 3rd album Passport was released featuring Paul Wertico, Howard Levy and the Indian singer Satya Gummuluri working on blending styles of music from India, Brazil, Spain and the Middle East. Doing your original music here seemed to lead to doors opening fairly quickly. This said a lot about the NYC scene being very open to international projects and this was encouraging to me.
As a bandleader in NYC, you have a wide array of global talent to choose from and this city exceeded my expectations in many ways. It was an inspiring place to move to and it continues to inspire me.
What is Trade Winds?
After 10 years of cutting my teeth in New York, recording my 4th album with remarkable players like Gil Goldstein, Anna Maria Jopek, Avishai Cohen, Adriano Santos, Misha Tsiganov, Neal Alger, Ramesh Mishra and Mark Walker, and performing at many clubs like Joe’s Pub, Blue Note, Smalls and Iridium, I was anxious to switch it up and try something different. The question was what would this experimental project look like?
It was then that I decided to launch 21. It’s an initiative where I created 21 brand new bands in 21 days with over 40 musicians from around NYC and the world. We filmed a new collaboration every day and released a video of the session that day. I brought together musicians who typically don’t play together, curating brand new sessions with top talent and I had only two rules — Don’t talk about the music. Just play. (View 21 Video Series)
I was honored that so many incredible musicians gave their time and talent to the project. The list of players is literally a who’s who of the scene including Zé Luis Oliveira, Akie Bermiss, Danny Musengo, Mino Cinelu, Baba Israel, Adriano Santos, Prasanna, Yami, Farah Siraj, Yacouba Sissoko, Camila Meza, Elin, Thomaz de Castro, Fantcha Mendes, Sebastian Cruz and David Block to name a few.
This led to the next idea to bring the series to the stage of the Iridium Jazz Club where we created 21 brand new bands in one evening with 35 musicians in different combinations. We performed 21 original compositions crafted in the moment featuring incredible talent.
It was around then that we wanted to extend the series even further. That’s when Trade Winds was officially launched – a traveling Transatlantic improvised music series going to coastal cities along the former trade routes. This would include NYC, New Orleans, San Juan, Cuba, Brazil and West Africa taking the 21 concept on the road filming improvised compositions with the premier players in those locations.
Two key members of the Trade Winds team involved in the launch and ongoing support of the project include Zé Luis Oliveira and Laura Newman. Zé Luis is a Brazilian saxophonist/producer who for years was the right hand man of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil recording and touring extensively. Zé is the producer, recording and mixing engineer and also plays sax and flute for Trade Winds. Laura is our director, photographer and cinematographer who continues to make the series a beautiful “travelog-music video” so our audiences can experience the architecture, art, street life and culture of the places we travel to. To date we have over 250 musicians as part of our collective with nearly 75 videos already produced. I’m fortunate to have such a talented core-team with both Zé and Laura.
Check out the Trade Winds series from New Orleans and San Juan here.
What’s the current status of Trade Winds, and when are you coming to Japan?
We’ve thus far taken Trade Winds to New Orleans, San Juan and Havana. We are now releasing a double CD with 21 tracks from our work this year in Cuba collaborating with over 100 musicians. For our finale, ‘Havana Suite,’ we interview Cuban musicians about freedom and feature Grammy Winning Drummer Juan Castro Rojas and esteemed pianist Peruchín.
Check out the entire Cuba series here.
Our next destination will be Brazil this spring followed by West Africa. I am really looking forward to our journey to Brazil because of our strong musical ties there with Zé and my love of the culture.
I have had the chance to perform in Japan a couple times and I’m hoping to return in the near future maybe even with a new project. I have much admiration for the talented musicians there and look forward to being in the country again.
3 favorite albums:
Pat Metheny – Secret Story
Buena Vista Social Club
Caetano Veloso – Livro