Friday, October 5, 2012

ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL 2012: Q&A with Jeff Gauthier & Ruth Price

This year marks the 5th anniversary of the Angel City Jazz Festival -- no mean feat considering it has specialized in the types of Post-Postmodern jazz that would make your Yia-Yia go, "Meh! Feh!" And yet, through consistent vision, a diverse booking palette and intriguingly unifying themes (last year's World Jazz-centric fest was dubbed "Global Jam"), the Festival has evolved into a tentpole showcase for the vital Left Coast/LoCal jazz and creative music scene. It also still remains proudly nonprofit: The musicians make the money; the promoters and organizers don’t.

This week, the Beast sat down for a quick chat about the festival with its co-organizers, composer/violinist Jeff Gauthier and vocalist/promoter Ruth Price.
THE BEAST: Jeff, the ACJF’s original organizer, Rocco Somazzi, brought you on board during its second year. Now that you’ve got a rhythm down, what’s your “Day-After-Last-Day-of-Festival” routine?
JEFF GAUTHIER: Besides being pretty wiped out? [laughter]

Well, how long before you start having to think about the next year?
JG: To tell you the truth I don’t have too much of an opportunity to regroup with my involvement with The Jazz Bakery and every other part of my life. It’s continuous. I have some gigs lined up a few weeks after the festival so I’ll have to start working on that. I’m playing with the L.A. Bach Festival on the 18th, so there’s really no break. Maybe I’ll get a massage and then my wife and I will go have a nice dinner. [laughter]

Ruth, how did this joint collaboration with you and Jeff come together?
RUTH PRICE: Last year, I did a performance at the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood with the guitarist John Abercrombie that was designated as one of the official ACJF performances. At that time, the Board of the Jazz Bakery hadn’t yet gotten to the point where we decided if we needed an Artistic Director. We’d never had one before and we vetted several good people, but Jeff seemed like the perfect fit. It was a natural progress because we are both doing things that complemented with each other -- It wasn’t a "money" thing at all. A lot of the reason why we brought Jeff on board is that there’s just so much more to do!

JG: Next year it’s looking like the Jazz Bakery will be involved again and we’ll be looking to Ruth to take on a bigger role. Also, the collaboration with the Jazz Bakery makes sense because we can introduce their audience to the festival and vice versa. It’s really a win-win for everyone.

RP: If we decide to go ahead and be partners next year, what I and Rocco are very excited about is the concept of basing the festival around that wonderful jazz documentary Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense. I’m pretty friendly with the producer/director of that, and we’re in discussions.

Ruth, You did sort of a Jazz Bakery Moveable Feast mini-festival last August where Jeff's ensemble The Goatette played. Was that sort of a dress rehearsal for this?
RP: Oh no, that was just a little summer series we do every year, and I knew they would fit perfectly and they're a terrific group of musicians don’t have a lot of chances to play out that often.

How did you center on the theme for this year, “Artists & Legends”?
JG: The idea started at an event at last year’s festival, where Alex Cline presented a piece by Roscoe Mitchell at REDCAT with a large ensemble on the same bill as Roscoe’s trio. The idea of having an artist do an homage to a legendary artist on the same program is a very moving experience, and we saw that Roscoe was quite touched by it as well. So we took that idea and expanded it for the entire festival.

Jeff Gauthier

How did you pair up the acts?
JG: We worked at it from both ends. In some instances it was clear right off the bat and others it developed as we went along. For instance, we knew we wanted to do something with Bobby Bradford…so we immediately thought of Mark Dresser because Mark is someone who cut his teeth with Bobby when Bobby taught at Pomona College [back in the early ‘70s]. He has a fondness and a lot of respect for Bobby and it would be a really interesting situation to put them both in. We could’ve just booked Bobby’s Mo’tet and that would have been great by itself, but the idea of him interacting with Mark seemed like a really exciting prospect for us. With Myra Melford, her choice was her influence Marilyn Crispell. The idea of Marilyn doing some solo piano and then both of them doing “Piano Four Hands,” which is something they’ve done before, followed by Myra’s new band Snowy Egret is really exciting. There’s also some great awards connected to this particular concert: Not only is Myra a 2012 winner of the Herb Alpert Best Musician Award but we also applied for a grant from Chamber Music America for Myra’s performance.

Congrats! Is it easier to get grants these days – I mean, easier than it was five years ago?
JG: I think it’s probably more difficult because foundations have less money and more people are knocking on their doors, but it might be easier for us now because we have four festivals under our belt and we have a little bit of a track record that we didn’t have five years ago.

Ruth, you curated one show for the upcoming ACJF with Anthony Wilson, and you were also involved in the festival’s Young Artist Competition.
RP: I have such faith in Anthony, and anything he wants to get together is going to be marvelous. I wanted something to present local for REDCAT and he is so eloquent musically -- and he was available! I was also one of the three judges for the Young Artist Competitions. I hear about the names of the various young players around town because for years the Jazz Bakery was the go-to place for all of the local college bands and the high school bands – not Big Bands, but Jazz Combos – and it was so exciting when we had them play. It would be earlier in the week because we had the bigger names for the weekend…I remember the Ferber Twins, Mark and Alan, who went on to become first-call players in New York; they used to volunteer at the Jazz Bakery from 1992 until 2009 -- a long time. Whenever there was something like that that attracted the young crowd, there was always an electricity in the room. I just loved it.

Ruth Price
[photo by Peak]

One of the pleasant surprises of this year’s festival is that Wilson and organist Larry Goldings are playing with Jim Keltner, who’s not known as jazz drummer per se but a legendary rock and pop session musician.
JG: Yeah, I think the surprise for everybody will be to see what an accomplished jazz drummer Jim is! I’ve heard him on jazz recordings and with this trio and the man kicks ass.

This is the first time you’ve done it without Rocco Somazzi’s actual physical presence in L.A. How involved was/is he despite now being located in Oakland?
JG: Oh he was very involved, especially with the booking decisions and a lot of the logistics. He’s an amazing guy and can juggle many plates at the same time.

RP: I remember meeting him up at that club called Rocco’s that he had up at where Herb Alpert’s Vibrato space is now. I remember really liking him and really appreciating his taste in music.

JG: At the same time, we have another volunteer named Rob Woodworth, who has taken over my old the festival’s executive director and that helped out a lot. Rob is from the Bay Area and ran a nonprofit organization called The Jazz House; he’s also been involved in a number of other festivals in Bakersfield and Berkeley. He’s very involved with this kind of music and has a lot of experience with nonprofits.

Jeff Gauthier & Rocco Somazzi (w/ MC Leroy Downs) at
the 2009 Angel City Jazz Festival
[photo by Myles Regan]

Jeff, this is the second year the festival has run a Kickstarter campaign. What is the goal this year?
JG: It’s to document the Ford Theatre concert on the 7th with Archie Shepp, Bobby and Mark, Ambrose Akinmusire and Peter and Damian Erskine with Vardan Ovsepian. It was originally going to be videotaped by KCET like it was last year but they had to back out because of funding cuts. So we decided we needed to find a way to document this because it can bring this amazing music to a whole lot of people. I should also mention real quickly that the video and recording of last year’s Roscoe Mitchell concert will be available at the festival and for a short time online during the festival.

Cool. How has Kickstarter affected or even changed the way these festivals are put together?
JG: Last year we were fortunate to receive $5000 from Kickstarter to fund the musicians’ expenses as well as recording the concert. We had Nels Cline as a major instigator for the project, but this year we scaled it back a bit to what we needed to do this recording, which is $3000. But as you know, there’s no guarantee….Kickstarter is a really great way to get people involved and make them feel like they’re playing a part in the festival, but it’s definitely not something we can base a festival around. It’s a valuable tool we didn’t have five years ago. We also wrote some grants last year and we were very fortunate to receive funding from the Herb Alpert Foundation, Chamber Music America, the Doris Duke Foundation and the L.A. County Arts Commission, which allowed us to expand on our idea of what the festival should be.

Ruth, any news on the new Frank Gehry-designed Jazz Bakery space you want to get off your chest?
RP: My way of explaining it is “the shovel is ready to go into the ground” in terms of the design and the lot that was given us. We have to raise a lot more money. We’re about to go into a major campaign for the real funding, because even though we had a substantial funding [$2 million] from the Annenburg Foundation, which to me is the moon but in terms of building a building it’s a whole different ball game. It gets into true fundraising and that’s no small thing even though you have many important ducks in a row. So hopefully the paperwork could be finalized by the New Year, by January, which puts us in a position to really jump in and get it done right.

Can you tease us with a one-word description of the design?
RP: What can I say? It’s Frank Gehry! We’re going to use it as our big thrust, to put the design out there to the public when we start campaigning and fundraising.

On Saturday, the festival is having its first Symposium, called “Honoring and Breaking with Lineage.” Where’d that idea come from?
JG: It was something Rocco and I had wanted to do for a couple of year but we couldn’t quite figure out a way to do it. We were talking with Greg Burk about and he seemed interested in the idea and I think he’ll make a great moderator. It was an idea whose time has come and the idea of doing it at REDCAT before the Jazz Bakery event and include people like Ruth, Steve Isoardi, Bobby Bradford, Ambrose Akinmusire seemed like a perfect fit.

Jeff, since you were trained as a classical musician, how do you approach the “Honoring and Breaking with Lineage” subject in the realm of jazz and creative music?
JG: At this point in my artistic development, I basically have to trust that all of my influences and lineages have been fully assimilated into what I do. Back in the day when I was studying at Cal Arts and had more time to think about it, guys like Bill Evans, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Keith Jarrett had a great influence on me. Once in awhile I listen to my old stuff and think, “Oh, I must have been listening to Ralph Towner in those days.” [laughter] But now it’s all part of the mix.

RP: I’m more with the “honoring” than I am with the “breaking” in the sense I don’t think you need to break something in order to continue. What choice do you have? What would you have been building on?

Jim Black, Tim Berne & Nels Cline at the 2010 ACJF

Jeff, this is also the first time you haven’t played at the festival. Who would be your legend-of-choice
if you did?
JG: Well, in a way, Ruth Price is a legend in her own right, a legendary jazz singer and legendary producer, club owner and artistic director here in L.A.

RP: I haven’t lived long enough to be a legend! [laughs]

JG: I think I’d choose [woodwind player] Bennie Maupin. I've been a fan of his music since I was in high school when he played in Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band and his landmark album The Jewel in the Lotus. In 2004 I put a band together to cover two of the Mwandishi albums [Crossings and Mwandishi] and Bennie was in the audience. That was the beginning of a fruitful working relationship during which I was able to help with the production of two of his recordings. I've learned a tremendous amount from him about music and life.

RP: Because I’m a singer, I think in terms of piano players and rhythm sections. Robert Glasper! Yes, I loooove Robert Glasper. Because I haven’t been singing in so long, people forget that I’m open to adventure. I mean, some of the first gigs I had on the road were with Charles Mingus and Jackie McLean! But Robert is so free. One of my favorite things I produced for the Jazz Bakery last year was Robert’s trio with Derrick Hodge on bass and Chris Dave on drums, and they did and entirely improvised night, from first note to last. I was in the dressing room listening to it. It was amazing, incredible, brilliant and I’ll never forget it.

THE ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL 2012: ARTISTS & LEGENDS debuts tonight at LACMA and features this year's Young Artist Competition winners The Anthony Lucca Quintet (6pm) followed by the Phil Ranelin Jazz Ensemble (7pm).

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