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Interview: Trombonist Jacob Garchik

March 16th, 2011


Trombonist Jacob Garchik
© Eliza Bates
Since moving to New York City last year, I keep hearing Jacob Garchik's name mentioned by fellow trombonists and experimental jazz artists. Ubiquitous in New York's new music scene, and perhaps best known for his work in such bands as John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble and Slavic Soul Party, Garchik's recent focus has been on his trio with pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Dan Weiss. For those unacquainted with experimental jazz in New York, or simply interested in the future of trombone playing, Garchik's music is highly recommended.

I caught up with Garchik between rehearsals in Midtown Manhattan over a cup of tea on March 16, 2011. The discussion covered trombone, aesthetics, and even includes some advice for prospective New York musicians! Here's a partial transcription of our conversation:

  • James Hall (H) - Jacob, you're originally from San Francisco. How old were you when you moved to New York?

    Jacob Garchik (G) - 17.

  • H - Did you move here to study?

    G - Yeah. My family's all from New York, and I came to New York to visit when I was growing up. I always thought it was an exciting place, and the more I learned about the music business, the more people told me New York was the place to be. So I came here to go to the Manhattan School of Music, interested in a school that was in an urban setting that had both a classical and jazz department.

  • H - So you split your time between classical and jazz at MSM?

    G - Yeah. Lessons and also classes. I took quite a few classes in classical composition, theory, music history, and I studied a little bit with Steve Turre, with David Finlayson from the New York Phil, and Dave Taylor.

  • H - But now you do primarily jazz and improvised music, right?

    G - I do a wide variety of stuff: I still do a fair amount of classical gigs. I also do a lot of music from all over the world - I've done a lot of Balkan music, which is not necessarily improvised stuff - so all kinds of stuff, but certainly a lot of improvised stuff.

  • H - Your most recent releases have been with an experimental jazz trio. How would you describe your music to someone with little to no musical background?

    G - It's a combination of jazz and classical music, and relies a lot on empathy and spontaneity. Some of the music is very intricate, but we play it as if we know it very well. That's sort of the goal: to play it as we would play a tune we've been playing all our lives.

  • H - What do you mean by empathy?

    G - Everybody's very tuned in to what the other players are doing. It's very reactionary: somebody makes a decision and everybody else is aware of it, so things can happen in a split second.

  • H - Who are some of your biggest influences?

    G - I always say my biggest influences are Miles Davis and John Coltrane, but that doesn't really describe much. [laughs]

  • H - It seems that every jazz musician would say that.

    G - Right, but it's really true! I was influenced by their lives, their trajectories, their stories; where they came from and what they strived to do. They always tried to be artists on the highest level, and without compromise, and that was always very inspiring to me. There are specific things too: Coltrane was always changing, so was Miles; how Miles surrounded himself with these extraordinary musicians; and there are technical things like his use of space, how Coltrane could be very complex and very melodic and simple at the same time.

  • H - You live in Brooklyn. What makes the downtown/Brooklyn music scene a special place?

    G - There are a lot of musicians in close proximity to each other. It sounds silly, but it's actually true. In the neighborhood I live in, I could probably name 40 musicians who live within a 15-minute walk, and I know that there are many other neighborhoods in Brooklyn that are like that too - musicians tend to be in the cheaper neighborhoods. But it actually has a real effect on what's going on because if I want to have a rehearsal, I know people can come because they live nearby. If I want to have a session, or read some music, or have a gig that doesn't pay well but it's more like hanging out, it's more likely that people will go if they live nearby. If a friend of mine is playing nearby I'm more likely to go and see them.

    So it really does feel like a community. The community has its ups and downs. Last summer a good friend of ours was killed in a bike accident, and it really felt like everyone came together around that; it felt really close to everybody. Just like any community, just like police officers or something like that.

    One of the places that I've played quite a lot is Barbès. It's unusual in a couple different ways. First of all, they have a policy that they don't book straight-ahead jazz, because the owners are not really fans of straight-ahead jazz, and they make the rules. But the owners love musicians, and they like experimental stuff. They have a funny relationship with it: it's not their favorite type of music, but they respect it, so that's always been a very welcoming place to musicians. The way the finances work there, they're pretty easy-going, unlike a lot of Manhattan clubs. They don't put a lot of pressure on you to try and make a lot of money or have a huge audience. The room itself really on fits 40-50 people, so even if you only have 10 people it still feels like something of an audience. So that place has been very beneficial to have around.

  • H - For those readers who are familiar with the straight-ahead jazz scene and want to branch out into something more experimental, where else might they look?

    G - The Stone, Roulette, IBeam, Issue Poject Room, Le Poisson Rouge, Douglass Street Music Collective... There are a lot of venues that have more mixed programming too, like even Smalls sometimes has more adventurous stuff. Fat Cat, BAM Cafe... I'm sure there's places I'm forgetting.

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