John Ellis: Son Of A Preacher Man

Southern born tenor sax madman John Ellis cooks up a hot blend of New Orleans soul and scorching New York City swagger in his latest release. With Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow, his fifth album as a leader, and third for uber-hip label Hyena Records, Ellis releases a directed fury of jazzy blissfulness. The album is a gem from front to back.
Glide’s Joe Adler recently spoke with Ellis about everything from growing up on the farm, to writing music that is inspired by his dreams.

Thanks for speaking with Glide. So let’s start with your childhood, growing up on a farm, and your preacher father. What was the transition between that kind of life and where you are now?

Basically that’s the North Carolina School of the Arts, I would say that. The school is in Winston Salem. I was in 8th grade and I really started feeling like I gotta get the fuck out of here. It’s an amazing place to grow up, the country is an amazing place when you’re a kid. It had a lot to do with my Mom who was an English teacher. She really encouraged my brother and I to read, she went out of her way to expose us to things. We went on trips. She was just worried that we would be too defined by a tobacco company and she wanted to make sure we knew about some other stuff. I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

What were some of the first kinds of music that you heard growing up?

Church hymns were huge, community singing. My mom had a pretty eclectic collection, but she really didn’t have that much stuff. It was a weird collection, she had some pretty cool Ry Cooder records that she loved, some great Willie Nelson and Waylon, she had some stuff with Waylon and Willie together, she had the Beatles, Paul Simon. And I was equally, if not more, influenced by my brother who was interested in hip-hop back in the eighties, a very different era. He was way into it, he was doing graffiti art. He made a rap record when he was 16, I guess I was 13. He was crazy into that, Run DMC, Eric B. and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, all of the originals.

Isn’t it funny how that’s all coming around again big right now?

 Yea, that’s not surprising, everything goes in circles. So yeah, it was like this weird combination of country American roots kind of music. My folks listened to NPR all day long, so there was always classical music, so that was kind of the deal. But jazz was pretty absent, actually conspicuously absent from all that. I didn’t get exposed to jazz until about 15. My brother’s roommate at that school (NCSA) was a drummer he was definitely interested in jazz. He had met Wynton Marsalis before jazz at Lincoln Center. It was right around the time that Ellis Marsalis was doing a lot at UNO, and Wynton was on the road, and he was actively recruiting young musicians to go study music with his Dad, and he was talking about that a lot. So he was really influential on this guy who was my brother’s roommate and, in a hand me down way, he was also very influential (to me). I mean I met him (Wynton) too, but I didn’t have a lot of direct contact with him. He was influential on a whole era of jazz. A lot of people who had reservations about him have come to recognize that he changed a lot of things actually. He was really influential on pretty much everybody my age who was playing jazz, directly or indirectly I guess.

So let’s see, you went from the North Carolina School of the Arts to studying with Ellis, correct?

Yeah, I was at School of the Arts for 4 years, There my biggest saxophone mentor was this guy James Houlik who’s a classical saxophone player. He’s basically one of the world’s leading classical tenor players. You don’t really hear classical saxophone because the saxophone was invented around 1840. So you’re already an underdog in the classical world. So for all of the classical composers, it wasn’t there for them to write for. And also it’s so defined by other kinds of music, other than classical. Almost all of the classical saxophone repertoire was written for the alto. And he (James Houlik) is a tenor player, so he’s a real renegade. He’s really amazing, amazing amazing artist. He did his thing in the classical realm, he definitely has a lot to offer anyone doing anything. So he was tremendously influential.

So is he still performing?

He is… He goes to China, he’s all over the place.

So how was that experience different from going down to New Orleans?

I didn’t really start playing jazz in any way that makes any sense until I went to New Orleans. New Orleans was the beginning of my experience with jazz. But the school was pretty disorganized by what I had been through already. And there were all these opportunities to play, you can think of New Orleans as a kind of big school. And I really started to plat a lot, and it was  a community of musicians that had a lot of the same interests, we were all kind of aspiring towards a similar thing. Nicholas Payton is just about a year older than me, he was down there trying to find his record deal. And he was really influential because his talent was so unbelievable, even back then. He influenced the whole scene down there in that era. And there was a lot of informal… that actually doesn’t exist there anymore either, it was an amazing time. There were all these informal gigs, we played for tips, a couple regular gigs that were every Tuesday and every Saturday. We played for tips, it was like a jazz session basically. All the musicians were really good.

There’s just a really strong feeling to that town…

There really is… It’s interesting. It’s like a… You can’t figure out what decade you’re in when your there! But even before the storm, there wasn’t that same kind of community, I took it for granted because I just thought that was how New Orleans was. But it was just a real short period of time where there was a bunch of like minded musicians playing a lot. Brian Blain was in and out at that time. He had basically left by the time I got there, but he was back a lot, I played with him several times, it was really great, that was definitely my formative jazz experience that still shapes me to this day. No matter what kind of music I’m playing, this was a really inclusive period. You know what I’m saying?

The feeling of really having your feet on the ground.

Exactly, like having a perspective, a rooted community of jazz as a part of the greater    community. It’s hard to find… I struggle to find that in New York.

So going from there, from being in New Orleans and then moving up north to New York City and you were studying at the New School. You were there for quite a while right?

I only went to the New School for two years. I only had two years left. Basically what happened was that I did one year of college at the North Carolina School of the Arts. I went to three years of high school there and one year of college. Then I went to my sophomore year of college at the University of New Orleans, which was where Ellis was teaching. And then I quit for three years and just lived in New Orleans, and I was just playing. It was when I moved to New York that I decided to go back and finish for a whole lot of reasons. I mean I didn’t have any gigs and it was so overwhelming. When you go from a town of half a million to a town of 10 million… Just the amount of musicians that are here is just bewildering. So it takes a lot longer to get integrated. Whatever scene exists up here, in some ways it’s ongoing… So I went back to school partly just to get myself oriented, just to get adjusted and have a little time where I wasn’t going to have to start waiting tables or whatever. So I did two years at the New School, I finished up my last two years.

So tell me about the influential trip that you took to Africa.

That was actually while I was in New Orleans. I went for seven weeks. They still do this program, that was the first year, it’s called Jazz Ambassadors. Now they do it through the Kennedy Center. The first year was the only year that they did it through the United States Information Agency which I think they ultimately cut the budget for and was cancelled, that was an agency of the State Department. It was the same agency that sent Louis Armstrong to Africa way back, they had been doing stuff for a long time. And it was amazing to be in South Africa not too long after apartheid ended and get the perspective of the people. To see Madagascar, which is incredible because it’s like going another planet. The people, the ecology, and the animals. And countries that are actively writing their constitutions. It’s an amazing thing. I think sometimes in the US you really get the idea that this is an experiment. There’s some kind of sleepiness here, for lack of a better term. I think sometimes, regardless of your politics, there’s a self-assuredness that America works. You just forget that there were some people that sat around and sorted this out, that this has not been here forever. And when you see a country contemplating what their constitution might be, it makes you think about your own country, that there are people who did that here.

And just how easily things can change…

So much so, so much so. You know it’s also the same thing when it’s not western. Traveling to anywhere that’s not Europe, particularly Asia and Africa. Really I can’t tell you what they do for your perspective, how huge the world is. And have such a sense of humility about what your perspective is when you see how many there are, culturally, ethnically, and religion.   It also makes you really really grateful, and sometimes bewildered. I mean I went to a grocery store, one of those giant grocery stores, after coming back. And you can’t even believe it. Some of the stuff that’s in there, it’s like, “Oh my God!”

Stuff that Americans so take for granted.

Yeah, it’s incredible the amount of opportunity here. And here we even have a long way to go for everyone to have that same opportunity. I guess you feel the excess too, to just feel how much, sort of, waste there is in a place like this.

I know, just think of how many different types of catsup you can buy.

That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. You go and you see the toilet paper section, there’s forty different kinds, you think, “how is this even possible?” But being in South Africa was very interesting as they were struggling with their national post-apartheid identity. We were in Durban, South Africa, actually Dave Brubeck’s son, Darius Brubeck, was teaching up there (at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.) We went there (to the University) and worked on a little rehearsal. Then a riot happened while we were at the school. And basically the main reason for the riot was that they had a student election, student body president. And you’re talking that they just recently integrated. And the legacy of the very rich few having dominion over the very poor many, a very oppressed majority. And this was their first chance to go to school or college and (they were still) really frustrated and boycotted the elections. But then this white guy got elected they were breaking stuff, or throwing computers out the windows.

That must have been pretty interesting to be in the middle of?

It was bizarre. I mean we were kinda in the front of the school, down in the basement rehearsing. I mean I didn’t feel threatened by anything I saw, but it was happening all around us. But you really felt the genius of Mandela… Sorry to go so far off topic but… Mandela was… I made it a point to ask everybody that I could what they thought about Mandela. And what was most fascinating was how much gushing praise (he received) from everyone.

What were some of the common threads in the responses to you asking about Mandela?

I mean more of what I remember was just the tone. No matter what they were complaining about, car-jackings, not having access to this or that, frustrations with so many things. The sense that this guy was almost greater than human in his vision for the country and in his self sacrifice and compassion. And I guess that it was most interesting that in South Africa the language that they use to describe race was white, coloured (meaning they have sub-Saharan bloodlines, but not enough, by South African law, to be regarded as being black), and black. Just three categories, and someone who would identify as any of those 3, (they) all vote the same. And that was fascinating. But it’s all so complicated. You wonder how with a functioning democracy where you have so many different histories amongst all the groups. You have the British, the Dutch, the Germans, and then there are so many African ethnicities. So they have their own history, and their all still kind of bordering each other. All of these people who have hundreds of years of working together, or killing each other, try to work together to represent a government where everyone feels represented. It actually makes you marvel at how this country can even work at all, in that respect.

It’s fascinating you know, we can sit here and talk about the music all day but the things that inspire you, as a person and a musician, they really come out through your music. So it’s really interesting to hear these stories.

You can’t escape your experience. I was tremendously fortunate, and all these things were somewhat accidental. I mean it was my former teacher at the School of the Arts, the guy who was sorta leading the jazz band there, (who) mentioned this Jazz Ambassadors thing. And I think the word hadn’t really got out, it was the first year. They started leaking it out through the schools. Me and this guitar player just slapped something together and we got it. And also while I was in with all that, I got a chance to go to Singapore for 3 months which was also a very different experience. You know, we have (in the U.S.) a very candid culture where people talk very openly and candidly about things. Overall there is a candidness that is appreciated because people like to bond in that way. Just to realize that that in itself is a cultural thing and that not everyone functions that way in other cultures, that they don’t bond. It’s a very western thing. The truth about Singapore was, more than anything, and maybe it was because I was there for 3 months, is that you have an incredible capitalist place. It’s changed a lot in the last 10 years apparently, I mean it’s still very capitalist. So you have all of these things, you have every shop, every fast food place you’ve seen, all of this American type of everything, American and European. And in the way that people were dressed. But then you realize also that you can offend someone in a pretty deep way just completely by accident because you say something that is not inappropriate in any way from where you live, or even just a hand gesture. You know you call someone, you ask them to come over with your finger, index finger, and it’s just like crazy disrespectful. The things you have to learn.

Did you have many experiences like that?

Oh yea sure, a lot, you can’t not have it really. People give you a pass, it’s not like they don’t understand that you are from somewhere else. If you visit there you’ll never notice, but if you live there, if you’re actually renting an apartment and you’re there for some significant amount of time, you stop getting a pass! You have to start studying or people will really get pissed if you don’t try to figure it out.

How would you relate that to music?

Music is an extension of community and culture in every way. Western bands that appropriate styles from different cultures are not doing the same thing. If you have a band that’s going to play music from Mali and you live in Vermont, it’s really cool to do that, but it shouldn’t be confused. You shouldn’t think that what you’re doing is the same thing that people who live in Mali, and always have, are doing. It’s not gonna be the same, it’ll be it’s own interesting interpretation of that. No matter how “authentic” you try to be, it’s not an extension of your community.

You’re not coming from the same experiences.

You’re not, you’re not sharing that. Actually there is nothing, nothing wrong with that but it’s new, some kind of new western thing.

That reminds me of this time I was at a local bar and 3 girls, who had just landed in town from Japan, quietly asked the band that was playing if they could play a couple songs during their set break. The band obliged and when the 3 tiny little Japanese girls kicked into their first song you’d thought you were deep in the late 70’s New York City punk scene. It was great. I became so endeared to their love and appreciation for this music that I take for granted.

You find that across the board. You know, the guy who plays saxophone in the style of Hank Mobley. Very specifically stylized. There’s such a tremendous dedication to doing it in some kind of authentic way. Everything becomes a brand, everything becomes a category. It’s interesting.

It’s like when you think of Dixieland jazz, and the second generation people who would transcribe the solos of the pioneers who themselves, initially, were improvising and turn those love passages into the later interpretation of “how to play this style of music,” which in a way went against it’s early focus on the improv. It kind of turned the music into a historical document.

I mean yes and no. I mean, learning jazz requires that. I think learning any kind of music is like that, it’s an ear involved process. If you look at any folkloric music in any culture you learn by apprenticeship and you learn by transcribing. The thing that was interesting about that whole Dixieland thing has more to do with cultural relevance. Learning it in the current era is a different thing than learning it in an era when that was a little more popular and relevant. And that’s like back in New Orleans, playing that music in New Orleans is very different from playing it somewhere else. I still think that music is vitally living in New Orleans in a way in which it isn’t anywhere else. Unfortunately I think we live in an era so dominated by marketing considerations that choosing the music that you play and having it fit to some other already identifiable style makes it easily marketable that way. It’s very easy to do. I was talking to a friend of mine who is working on Broadway and it’s like every show that’s on Broadway now is a revival or a recreation, or a show that’s from a cartoon or was on TV. A lot of old Broadway stuff was cultural commentary, a lot of it had political significance for the current era. Now it’s just all marketing considerations, and I think you see that in so many different styles of music, “Have you heard this band? They sound just like “blah, blah, blah.” They really have a “this” kind of vibe.” If you can’t fit what a music is into one sentence, it’s very hard to get it into the public arena in the current era.

So let’s get back to the music. Let’s pick back up with where things were going after the formal education was capped of at the New School.

I moved back to New Orleans. When I was there I played a lot with, I had over the years played a lot with, Jason Marsalis and his band and this time we made a record. Then I came back here and for a real hot second I was playing with this R&B singer named Bilal (Oliver) who I went to school with. And he sang on one of my records. I played in his band for just a second. He’s so talented and amazing to watch. And then I got an opportunity to play with Charlie Hunter during that time and I did that for five and a half years. So I did that from 2000 until mid-2006. And that was huge in a lot of ways. First of all, I was going to France, and all of these countries. And I had never been to California, I hadn’t traveled in the U.S. really much at all. Which is mostly where he travels. Most of that time we played in the U.S. and I got a chance to see the whole country, drive around. And he’s a real beyond category musician, he resists easy categorization. He’s nothing short of brilliant. The amount of music that he knows and the amount of things that he knows about everything, it’s just staggering. He speaks a bunch of languages. He’s pretty much self taught in every way. He was a great influence and role model, he’s a very unique guy. Someone should really write a long exhaustive feature about him because he’s not well understood even by people who like him, I don’t think. He got classified as, in the beginning, afro jazz on the west coast, and then (with) the jam band movement. And there are so many people who are so thrilled that he’s playing bass guitar, so he has the guitar freak out guys. And he plays a lot of stuff that people recognize from records that they love.

It pulls ya in. Just watching him play is…

Visually watching him is an incredible experience. It really is, there’s no question about it.

I saw you guys as a trio twice with Derek Philips (on drums). And man, God, it was just incredible. I mean the dynamics between the three piece. And all of the different shades that you guys could get. And your bass clarinet playing gave a completely unique element to the group. It was a truly great band.

That was my favorite, I mean I played through various configurations of his groups. I stayed in the band longer than anyone has. The trio with Derek, all the different variations of that… I mean he had me playing melodica, and the whirly, and all that. But that definitely was my favorite of the groups that we did, that I did with him. They were all really fun, but that was my favorite one. So I had a blast with him (Charlie) and all the way up until that I’d been trying to do my own records, I mean this record, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow,  this is my fifth record as a leader. I have always done some kinds of projects that involve people I know from New York, people I know from New Orleans. And I still do such a tremendous amount of sideman work, basically that’s how I manage. I think one of the things that was interesting about playing with Charlie for so long is that what he does is so unique, it’s such fantastic growing experience because there isn’t any precedent for it. So you can sit and say, “What have the other bands that have someone playing bass and guitar simultaneously, what does the saxophone player do?” There’s no re-creation possible and there’s something fantastic about that, as opposed to a group where all of the musicians are playing in a certain stylized way. But all of the stuff I was most passionate about before I played with Charlie, in terms of  playing music, first I guess classical music and then, basically, jazz. The whole reason Charlie wanted me in his group was because I was someone who could play a lot of different ways, but I was really informed by jazz sensibilities, in many ways more than he was. And I had more experience playing in that straight up jazz way. I think he wanted me in his band because he thought I had some shit that was interesting. I was pursuing the stuff I loved and I think he liked that.

I think his style evolved in a profound way during the time of the trio with you and Derek.

That’s conscious on his part, that’s part of his genius. He wants to surround himself with people who inspire him and influence him. He has unlimited musical abilities, he likes to be kicked around different by people who have different interests than him. I certainly didn’t get that gig because I was a funk saxophone player. I’m someone who has always liked all types of stuff. I honestly feel like most of the music that I love, R&B, funk, rock; I generally don’t like saxophone in that music. I usually want the saxophone player to stop playing so I can enjoy the rest of the stuff! Once you get into this funk and rock oriented saxophone, the way that it’s been done more currently, I just don’t identify with much of that. I love that music, but I want to play drums in that music, or like rhythm guitar. To me, it’s very tricky to make the saxophone work in that kind of music. My main influences were mostly in the jazz realm.

The first time I ever saw you play was with Stanton Moore’s Moore & More group in the spring of 02 at the 9:30 Club. The band was Moore, Skerik, Chris Wood and Brian Seegar. That show was a peak music experience for me. What was it like playing in that group?

I’ve known Stanton… Wow let me think about this… I moved to New Orleans in 93, I’m sure I met Stanton that year. And we played together, I was actually in, this is actually very funny almost like it’s not true… Galactic first record Coolin’ Off, I was in the band then, but I was going to Europe a lot. At that point Galactic wasn’t touring a lot, they were playing for frat parties and things like that. But the core members of the band, Stanton and Jeff and Rob and Rich, were losing money or breaking even. There wasn’t any money being made and they were playing sorta like gigs for tips. It was starting to happen, but they hadn’t made their first record yet. So the only way I was making a living was going to Germany and playing with Walter Payton, Nicholas Payton’s dad. So it was a conflict with the Galactic recording schedule and this thing in Germany, and this thing in Germany was my bread and butter. So I was in the band at that time but didn’t end up making it on the record. But that was my era of Galactic. So I have known Stanton and have played with him for many years and I’ve always loved him, he’s amazing. Chris Wood I didn’t know, but I really bonded with him, I wish we had done something, we hadn’t done anything since. Skerik is fucking hard to play saxophone with! It’s like the shit is so powerful, so ridiculous. When the saxophone sounds like Hendrix with the distortion and then you’re supposed to play… It’s like, the fuck am I supposed to do with that!?

I was just a great band, all around. And Seeger was awesome on the guitar.

Seeger’s also a great writer. And Seeger was like the secret weapon of that group. Some of the coolest, most fun to play stuff, he wrote. He has an incredible ability to write these fun, really catchy things that are perfect for that kind of band.

So let’s move on to your new record, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow, and the new band Double Wide. You talk about Double Wide as a side band and not just a group for the record. Do you plan to keep this group together for a while?

Yea, I running up against some significant difficulties, but that’s the hope. Two of the guys live in New Orleans, and everyone is outrageously busy doing other stuff. Everybody’s got to make money. More than any record I’ve made, I had very specific people in mind, I thought about who I wanted. I actually had a vision for what the music was going to be and I had a vision for who those musicians would be. But what it is not… We did not play a whole bunch and then make a record. It would have been awesome to do that, but I sort of had to conceive of my vision for this, assemble everybody, and hope that it was what I hoped it would be or better, which it turned out to be. It turned out way better than I could have imagined.

I read that it was just two days of recording?

Two days of recording, a couple days of rehearsal, two short rehearsals. Yea we played our first gig as a band in March. And I haven’t ever been more thrilled about a project. If I could play this music all over the place, it would be amazing, so we’ll see. But it may have to be that there is a little bit of a roster, not necessarily with the same guys.

The album is very spiritual and very haunting, at times quite delicate, and, at times, very much on the brink of madness. As an album, it really reads like a novel. It sets up a story, unravels a narrative, and finally resolves. The album, as a whole, just leaves you with a good feeling.

I really appreciate you checking it out. I feel like I’m really committed to that (like a novel) idea, that’s what an album is to me. I labor over that kind of thing, how to assemble it so there is some sort of complete picture. I’ve tried to do that with all of my records.

The whole art form of the album, with say something like Purple Rain, something that reads and pulls you into a dramatic musical story, is becoming more and more of a distant memory.

Of course, but there were so many layers to the technology. They had the 45s, then all of the sudden you had LPs where you can actually do that, to really conceive of this whole thing as an artwork. You know the way a record feels when you pull it out of the sleeve, the whole ritual of the whole thing with a record. In some ways with the CD, it was only  a matter of time before the whole concept of the album would start to disintegrate.

Very true. Well let’s get back to your new album, I think one of the best components of it is the sousaphone and it’s uniqueness. It drives the album, in a way, almost more than a bass could. There is a much richer mood that you can get with the sousaphone.

Sure and I honestly think Matt Perrine is unique in his abilities. I think he is a one of a kind. There are so many people who are great tuba players, don’t get me wrong. The combination of stuff that he has to offer, the New Orleans playing, all of his bass player information, because he’s a really fantastic bass player when he does play the bass. And I had thought for about 10 years how great it would be to make a tuba record, I didn’t get any further than that. It took a while for me to feel confident to come together and really have an idea of what I wanted it to be. But yea, there’s no question about it. I mean one of the things that’s most fun about it is the idea that there isn’t any precedent for it. I mean there’s lots of music that influences me, but sousaphone, organ, drums and saxophone, I don’t know of any records that have “that” on there.

It combines so well. The New Orleans spirit with the New York spirit. Just hearing a tuba, especially in New Orleans, it makes you wanna dance!

There’s just something so great about looking at it too!

So one of my favorite tunes on the album is I Miss You Molly. I read that that tune was written as a memorial?

Yea like a tribute, a memorial. It was just around the time that I was assembling the music for this thing; Molly Ivins, I read her obituary in the New York Times. She was someone that I always had a great appreciation for. I used to love to read her column. She was just so sort of unapologetic, you could hear her voice. She was like a pundit, but she didn’t speak with a dry cultural formal pundit speak. She had an incredibly funny personality that you could really feel in the writing. She was very southern, very unapologetically southern.  And just very fearless about telling it like it was. There are a lot of members of my family that are like that, people I grew up with are kinda like that. Like southern, lefty, folky. And people definitely forget in the political discourse of this country that there are so many of those people. It’s weird living on the east coast in New York and the cartoon vision that you get of the south…. But she’s someone that I always identified with her like a family member. So when she died, it was really sad. And it happened to correspond while I was putting this thing together. It just sort of came out, I was thinking about her playing piano.

It’s a beautiful piece man. The best part of it is when it breaks down to just the organ. And it’s heartbreaking to listen to. I just really gets ya.

Yea, and Gary plays so beautifully, and it’s really nice to hear him alone like that too.

So tell me about Dream and Mosh & Three Legged Tango In Jackson Square. They almost have this sort of James Bondish kind of vibe to them. You listen to ‘em and you feel like you should turn around ‘cause someone’s creeping up on you.

Yea a lot of those, I think Zydeco Clowns too, are real visual. I could easily think of them as being little soundtracks. I’d love to do some animation or something. Even if I wasn’t necessarily planning on it, I discovered that they were these little mini soundtracks.

Yea… And Zydeco Clowns, I love that one so much because it’s very unique to itself, it’s fits into the album but completely has it’s own thing going on, especially with the driving accordion playing.

And that one more than any of them, kind of has a little narrative that goes along. The snare drum being the gunshot, and the clowns being these little Cajon clowns running through the swamps from the law. It’s very easy to listen to that and see it and imagine it.

I agree. So let’s wrap things up with some of your other projects. Tell me about this Baby Loves Jazz book/cd thing you have worked on with Aaron Goldberg.

We did nine of those. I imagine more people have heard that than anything we’ve done. You know, it’s penguin books and a shitload of people bought it! A lot of kids from everywhere have heard of it, so it seems to have really gotten out there. But that was a blast, working with him is almost like really really difficult, and really really fun, because he’s like an all concept man. Talk about concept and execution, he is all concept. He never sees the practicalities of executing anything, which means that he dreams so big. He’s the kind of guy that’s like, “oh yea no problem, there’s 30 tunes, we’ll just do it in one day and knock it out. It’ll be great!” It’s like dude we’re tracking 30 tunes and there’s 6 musicians, and there’s lyrics and scores. He just doesn’t see it… “Awe, we’ll knock it out, everybody knows those songs.” But he’s great, he’s fantastic, he’s a good friend and he gets so much done because he has just nothing but ideas all day. And he believes that he can do them all. It’s fun to be around someone like that.

They drive you to places you never thought you could get to.

No question. I mean you never get done the thing that he thinks that you can, but you always get done way more than you would have.

What else have you been up to?

I’m playing a lot at the Jazz Gallery which is the real little home for me in New York. They commissioned some new music at the end of last year, so I have this collaboration with this Playwright friend of mine named Andy Bragen. The idea was to orchestrate dreams. I basically had him write some dream text, sort of like dreaming language, dreams words. And I have this band with a string quartet plus tuba and vibes and percussion and me. I’m playing clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano tenor and just trying to write specifically for this thing. And it’s more involved writing than anything I’ve done, moving more in the direction of what classical musicians do. We debuted the music at the end of December. And I mean I put months of work into putting together the music for it, and I still need to do more. That’s a project that I want to get done by the end of the year. I wanna finish the music and also record it. That’s something I’m real thrilled about. That’s another side project, and I imagine Double Wide and that project making a couple records if possible. I have a couple ideas what the next records would be on both of those.

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