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Interview with Trombonist Ryan Keberle - Part 2

Transcribed from a Conversation with James Hall on July 21st, 2011

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  • JH - What musicians in the city are worthy of more attention?

    Absolutely number one on my list is someone I’ve been playing with probably the longest of anyone, Pedro Giraudo, from an arranging/orchestration standpoint one of the most talented arrangers of our generation, if not the most. Incredibly informed, incredibly eclectic background, great bassist. Stylistically his music is perfect, it’s incredibly complex and so jazz musicians love it. It’s played at a very high level because the core band has been playing his music for almost ten years –which is pretty unheard-of in this town – so it’s super-tight, and thus non-musicians tend to really enjoy it as well because it’s very high-energy, very passionate music, with his Argentine background, but it’s very accessible because it is so tight. It doesn’t come across as being complex. It’s dense but it’s not overwhelming. For whatever reason, after ten years we really have yet to hit it big, so to speak.

    Straight-ahead jazz, I would say (trumpeter) Mike Rodriguez’ music. He’s doing well for himself as a side-man, but he and his brother (pianist Robert Rodriguez) have a group that is extraordinary. He was in my double quartet.

    Pianist Adam Birnbaum, another incredible talent, virtuosic, amazing musician. Still working his way up the food chain.

  • JH - You teach at Hunter College. In your exposure to young musicians, are there any typical bad habits, and how do you approach those pedagogically?

    RK - I’ve done a lot of clinics over the years and a lot of all-state jazz bands and that kind of stuff, and first of all, the level of musicianship is much higher these days, technically. I think the thing that is eluding a lot of musicians young and old, especially outside of New York (New York has a kind of bubble that protect those that live here from this issue) is the concept of and ability to swing. Swing, real swing, is dying unfortunately. Not in New York, so there will always be a place for it, but it’s got to be the hardest thing to teach because you can’t really teach it. It isn’t something you can break down, and it has to be learned by ear. The hyper-technological society we live in right now is helping, because it’s so easy to listen all the time, and that’s the only way you can teach.

  • JH - How would you describe the mistaken swing that you’re hearing?

    RK - It’s just that people don’t hear and feel what the masters were doing, and if you don’t connect with that how are you going to incorporate that into your own playing? How can you teach something to someone who doesn’t hear it, doesn’t understand it?

    It’s something educators need to take responsibility for. If educators took it upon themselves to listen to more (Count) Basie, listen to more (Duke) Ellington, listen to more Lester Young, and knew what they were listening for. That’s the problem: people listen to that music once and are like “okay, I’ve heard it,” it’s like no, you’ve got to live with that for years!

    In my improvisation class, I only do rhythm. I don’t do any harmony, and it sometimes pisses my students off, especially some of the more advanced ones that want to get into harmony but there’s just such a hole in students playing rhythmically. Ask someone to transcribe a rhythm, forget the notes! Especially a swing rhythm. People have real trouble with that, just being able to quantify what they heard. If you can’t quantify that on paper, how are you going to be able to play something with conviction and with precision on your instrument?

  • JH - What can we expect from you in the coming year?

    RK - Well, unfortunately not another double quartet album for the time being. The project is still very much alive and we still play around town and hopefully around the world down the road, but for the time being I really want to start playing outside of New York as a bandleader and composer, so I’m putting together this smaller project, and because rhythm is such a part of my conception and my approach to improvisation, it’s a chord-less group, so no piano, no guitar. It’s going to be very much groove-based, very much improvisation-based. It’s looking more and more like it’s going to be drawing from a lot of different styles. There’s definitely going to be some Latin jazz there, and certainly a lot of swing as well.

    It’s looking for the moment like it’s going to be trombone and trumpet. Originally I wanted to use saxophone; there are so many great tenor saxophonists in New York I love to play with, and because of my previous project being all brass, never really got to hire saxophonists, but something about the blend from the timbre perspective doesn’t sit with me as well as it could, as well as trumpet and trombone do, and because this music is also so much about counterpoint and the interaction between the bass and the horns, that blend is really important. So, I’m leaning towards a trumpet-trombone frontline, and bass and drums. People who, like me, have a varied background stylistically. So, we’ll see!

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