AMN Interviews

AMN Interviews: Brian Drye – Part 1

imagesIn a follow up to our interview with Brian Drye last year, Monique Avakian digs into more detail with Brian, regarding his music, musical path, and viewpoints. Currently, Brian is the founder of the Ibeam Brooklyn.

Part One – Music and the Man

By Monique Avakian

I read in All About Jazz that you are a teaching artist for Carnegie Hall as well as a coach and mentor for music educators throughout the city. How do teaching and mentoring influence your artistic trajectory and vice-versa?

Yes, I have been a teaching artist with Carnegie Hall for about seven years, and currently I’m working with music educators in NYC giving them feedback and assistance with their strengths as educators and finding out where they can use some help. Teaching allows me to constantly explore new music and approaches to learning music that I would not be able to explore on my own. Being open as a teacher has helped me become more open as an artist. Additionally, Carnegie Hall employs amazing musicians and artists and it’s inspiring to be a part of the work they do there. I’ve had the opportunity to work in struggling communities, homeless shelters and with up and coming high school musicians. One of the most important residencies I participated in was the American Roots program which was focused on African American spirituals. I feel that working in that program ignited a passion for song and connecting to community that has been influential in my own work.

I read in Cisco Bradley’s, Jazz Right Now, that you moved to New York in 1997 – where were you before that and how did your earlier musical and personal experiences build a foundation for you to make that leap?

I grew up in Rhode Island with a musician father who didn’t push me too hard, but was extremely supportive of my efforts to become a musician. I made my way to Miami for music school and then immediately landed in NYC basically because I was obsessed with the music that was happening in NYC at that time in the “downtown” scene at the knitting factory. I grew up in a small town in Rhode Island and was always hungry for Jazz music. In Miami we played all the time but outside the school at that time there wasn’t much going on. I spent 3 months in the Lower East Side in 1997, and I knew there was absolutely no other place to be. I heard music every single night for 3 months, blew all of my savings, and I still to this day don’t regret it. It was my “backpack across Europe” moment.

Bizingas* new (and second) album, Eggs Up High, is coming out with a CD release show at Threes Brewing on November 3, 2015. Biziangas is a group with no bass player and a heavy infusion of electronic experimentation. How did that set-up come about, and musically what does that mean for the group?

I had just met Kirk and we started doing some sessions. I met Ches Smith and invited him to play with myself, Kirk and Jonathan Goldberger at an East Village rehearsal space, and I knew that was the right band. I’d been already playing with Jonathan and we had a chemistry, and I knew that this was the next version of the band. I had an original version of the Bizingas band with a different drummer and Jon as the guitarist. It was supposed to be a trio and then I realized with Kirk in the mix, it would possibly free me up to play keyboard which is something I’d been wanting to incorporate into a band for a long time.

Is Bizingas some sort of punk band?

We’re not a punk band. We are an art-rock, free-prog, jazz quartet.

The threading arc between Bizingas albums seems at once recursive and expansive – as leader and composer, do you spend a lot of time working on creating links between albums, or does long-term compositional threading happen more organically for you?

It’s more organic I guess. I know that there is definitely an element that makes a particular composition more of a Bizingas tune. I feel that this record actually comes the closest to that aesthetic. I purposely did not write a whole bunch of new music, but rather tried to focus on those Bizingas type tunes I already had and supplement with a couple new ones. The first track on this new Bizingas record is Hawaii and I wrote that in 1999. Probably one of my first compositions that I wrote in NY and it was never recorded.

What is poetic about sonic exploration? I see that you recently played live at The Stone with avant sonic composer Annie Gosfield

Annie is amazing BTW….

Do you ever feel that you might get trapped inside of the spectacle and gadgetry of electronics?

No, I love electronics and electronic sounds. I don’t always feel like it’s so easy to blend with electronics, but I like the challenge as a horn player to make it work.

You also play in several other configurations regularly: with your dad, Howard Drye in Drye & Drye, with Mike McGinnis and Sean Moran in The Four Bags, with Kirk Knuffke, and with fellow trombonists, Jacob Garchik and Curtis Hasselbring…How do these situations cross-pollinate and inform your musical development?

Jacob and Curtis are two of my favorite trombone players, and I am super lucky to be in their company. They are both my heroes on trombone and everything else. Mike and Sean I’ve been playing with since I moved to NY, and Kirk is a brother–we have a connection and sympatico that is very unique.

How does your work with Slavic Soul Party, Frank London’s Klezmer Brass Allstars and Banda de los Muertos influence your projects and artistic trajectory?

All of these bands you mention are first of all huge influences for me. Slavic Soul Party was an immense resource for meeting so many great musicians and cutting my teeth playing music for dancing. Plus getting to study music outside of jazz has been really helpful in opening me up to so much music from around the word. Frank London is a very special musician, a great showman and an inspiring leader to follow on the bandstand. And again, Banda is all about dancing, digging deep into cultures beyond my own, getting to experience that first hand through the music and playing with all my close friends. I am very lucky to be a part of all of those bands.

Technically, I’ve always been struck by your speed and accuracy on the trombone, especially when playing with other trombonists and horn players super rapidly in unison, with a stellar example being Track 4, “Along,” on Eggs Up High. What kind of techniques allow you to play at such an accomplished level? Is it a matter of practice hours or more of an overall mindset? And when you compose, do you push pieces to include room for such maneuvers?

Well – first of all – thank you. I don’t think of myself as a technically impressive player, but I do believe that anything is playable on the trombone. I don’t limit myself to what the trombone is supposed to do. In fact it took me a long time as a younger musician to accept all the great things a trombone can do so well naturally and the lineage of all the amazing trombonists. I do think it’s mostly a mindset in addition to some practice hours. I still put a couple hours a day into the horn, and I feel like I practice so much better these days than I ever did before. I still feel like I get a little better every day at the trombone. The trombone is a lifetime commitment just to improve slightly each day.

I notice that you also play piano and that you have a fondness for the organ. Do you think there’s enough funk in jazz these days?

I love the piano, and in my next life I’m pretty sure I come back as a jazz organist and that’s it. And no – I think jazz needs to still be more dirty, funky and gross. As Roswell Rudd says, it’s the “Fuzz” (the mystery) that makes it sound good!

As a musician and as a teacher, do you consider yourself a traditionalist or a radical?

Neither – I love traditional and radical and everything in between. There is a time and place for all of it–A time to rebel and a time to join. Without that balance it’s all pretty boring to me.

How do you encourage your students to develop a firm sense of fearlessness when improvising?

Well – I don’t prep them. We act first, and then we think later. I think that’s the first step. Later on you learn to think first and act and that’s much harder. I feel like I’m always struggling to act first more.

Is it important for rising young jazz musicians to gain command of complex meters in composition and improvisation? What do you advise in terms of study and approach here?

Yes, of course – learn all of it – but don’t worry if you can’t do everything that you want to be able to do. I’ve been playing this mixed meter flamenco tune for two years and even recorded it already with my chamber group, The Four Bags. And today I discovered that I could finally play it effortlessly. The struggle is great if we can appreciate that it will pay off in ways that we may not be able to quantify for many years.

How can a young person prepare for success in the jazz world today?

Move to NY, meet as many people as you can, play hard, work hard, practice well and don’t beat yourself up. Stay positive. That’s the hardest thing to do as a jazz musician.

And last, but not least: Can you speak about the evolution of beards in Brooklyn? You and Kirk Knuffke are really trend-setters in that regard, aren’t you? I’m not sure you guys get enough credit for that…

Hell, yes! I’ve had a solid beard since I was about 22, and when I met Kirk, I knew we were going to be friends based on his beard. I shaved it once since then, and it was traumatic for me – so I think it’s here to stay!

 {Part Two continues the discussion with a focus on Drye’s music venue, Ibeam Brooklyn}

Bizingas: Brian Drye – trombone / keys / compositions, Ches Smith – drums / electronics, Kirk Knuffke – cornet, Jonathan Goldberger – guitar

“Once” video, Bizingas:

Eggs Up High:

Bizingas 2010 album review by Troy Collins at All About Jazz: