Photo by Alan Nahigian
I'm a guitarist / composer based in NYC. I was born in London, England in 1971, and was raised in New York City until I was 11 or 12, then moved to the utopian suburb of San Francisco, Mill Valley CA where I stayed through high school. My parents were (are) musicians and bought me a guitar when I was 5. I didnt get serious about it until I was 13 or so, which was when I realized how deep my mothers record collection was. Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Brecker Brothers, Herbie Mann, Ohio Players, Prince, Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, Jackson 5, Beethoven, Ravi Shankar, The Police, Albert King. All over the map, which I'm very thankful for. My taste in music has remained eclectic, and I suppose grows a bit more extreme in every direction as I get older.
I took lessons during high school, and then went to university at California State Sonoma, or SSU, which had a very open and creative music faculty. I lived in Oakland with some other musicians, including Brad Hargreaves a great drummer who played in my band for a few years and on my first recording, Orthodoxy. It was a long communte to Sonoma, but I needed to live near the action, such as it was. We had a studio in the garage and did a great deal of rehearsing there. The house on Forest St became a regular hangout for many musicians in the area, not only because we could play there, but also because we lived two blocks away from Yoshis (the original one on Claremont) which was the type of jazz club where you can sit right next to the stage. We would routinely have sessions or parties at the house after seeing people like: Joe Henderson, Tony Williams, McCoy Tyner, Amahd Jamal, Oscar Peterson, Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman, Betty Carter, Bobby Hutcherson, Jim Hall, Jimmy Smith, Billy Higgins, and many many other great musicians. At one point, one of our roommates was the publicist for the club, so naturally I saw everything that I possibly could.
After college I thought of moving back to New York to go to grad school, and persue the "have to make it in New York" question, but I was working enough and there was a general buzz in San Francisco. I guess it was called the acid or new jazz period. Clubs like the Up and Down, Elbo Room, Eleven, Enricos, Cafe DuNord, Brunos, Jupiter and others were having straight ahead/avant/hiphop/acid/groove or whatever kind of jazz, almost every night, and people were showing up. Whatever it was, people were improvising alot on these gigs. And whatever it was, you could actually make money playing your own music in clubs. Imagine that. There were a lot of great musicians doing different things: Dred Scott, Kenny Brooks, Graham Connah, Ben Goldberg, Trevor Dunn, Eric Crystal, Elliot Kavee, Dave MacNab, Sheldon Brown, Jon Evans, Will Bernard, John Schott, Charlie Hunter, Josh Jones, Scott Amendola, Derrek Phillips, Deszon Claiborne, Jeff Chimenti, Hafez Modirzadeh, Anthony Brown. Eddie Marshall, Calvin Keys, Ed Kelly, E.W. Wainwright.
During this time I met pianist Vijay Iyer, who was getting his PhD at UC Berkeley, where Brad Hargreaves was also studying. At one point Vijay and I would be in at least 6 or 7 bands at the same time. Along with saxophonist D'Armous Boone, Vijay and Brad were the people who I worked with in more detailed and conceptual way. Extended rehearsal process and discussion allowed for the realization of the music in a way that you cant get from a "one rehearsal" type of band.
Other artists/music/things I was involved in in the Bay Area: Hip Hop groups Midnight Voices and The Coup, R and B band Anibade led by an amazing singer named Ledisi, innovative koto artist/composer Miya Masaoka, started my own label Red Giant Records, and released my first CD Orthodoxy, played on a couple of Vijay's albums, Memorophila, and Archetextures, collaborated and toured with a great political satire musical theater company called the San Francisco Mime Troupe (which did not do pantomime), and had the pleasure of playing with Steve Coleman in a version of the Mystic Rhythm Society. I also wrote music and did sound design for The Magic Theater's 30th anniversary production of Sam Sheppard's True West.
By 1996 the dot.com boom had brought a bunch of new money to San Francisco, and a bunch of new money kids started buying up "live-work" lofts in the areas where the clubs were. This wouldn't have been so bad except for A, this drove the rents up to unbelievable levels, and B, these cool loft dwelling kids started to complain about the noise, and proceeded to drive many of the clubs out. Plus the scene in San Francisco can be a bit faddish (at least it was then), and suddenly everybody wanted to dance salsa, or do the lindy hop, so whatever clubs were still around started to change their programming. End of an era, so to speak. I hear its starting to come back to life a bit these days. I hope that's true.
In December 1998, I came back to New York. I worked some temp jobs while getting situated. After a year or so, through a friend, I got a trio gig at a small dark, and very smoky bar called Ciel Rouge. Michael Imperioli and his wife, Victoria, owned the Rouge. Occasionally there would be a Soprano sighting. With Stephan Crump on bass and Derrek Philiips on drums, we played virtually every Tuesday for two years straight. The Rouge turned out to be a great gig. We played whatever we wanted, and lots of people would come to play or just to hang out. One night I cant forget we had a melodica trio with James Hurt, Vijay Iyer, and Dred Scott. (It was actually very good). Some of the music that I started working out there later made it onto my second record, Tactiles (Pi Recordings, 2003).
In New York I've had the opportunity to play one way or another with a great many musicians that I have a lot of respect for. Some of these people are - Henry Threadgill, Butch Morris, Greg Osby, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dafnis Prieto, Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, Eric Harland, Harold Ousley, Jason Moran, Oliver Lake, Bob Stewart, Marty Erlich, Aaron Stewart, Mark Shim, Steve Lehman, Craig Taborn. Drew Gress, Francois Moutin, Mat Maneri, Peter Apfelbaum, Josh Roseman, Michele Rosewoman, Barney McAll, Nasheet Waits, Mark Helias, JT Lewis, Graham Haynes, even Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie... and many many others.
The association with Henry Threadgill has been of particular significance to me over the last five and a half years. As a member of his band ZOOID, I've been learning more about composition and band leading than I have in all of my previous experiences combined. If I can effectively make use of half of this information I'll be way ahead of the game.
My newest recording, Ophiuchus Butterfly (Pi Recordings, 2006), features musicians that have very personal approaches to their instruments and towards music in general. They are, Steve Lehman (alto saxophone), Mark Shim (tenor saxophone), Jose Davila (tuba), Stephan Crump (acoustic bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). The music itself is a combination of many things. Most importantly it grooves, and I think it also gives you something to investigate.