Adam Rogers: Tonal Beauty
“ ...none of my compositions directly reflect any of those formal [classical] techniques...But I think having internalized a lot of that information...has translated into a certain idea of how to write things. ”
Don't be surprised if Adam Rogers becomes a household name in the near future. His two latest records, Allegory (Criss Cross, 2003) and Apparitions (Criss Cross, 2005) are must-haves. His working band (Scott Colley, Clarence Penn, Ed Simon, Chris Potter) is made of superb musicians, and it shows on wax. His compositions are oftentimes complex, but never fail to be extremely listenable. The Frisell influence can be heard alongside the classical background.
His resume reads like a veritable pot luck of jazz, pop, and everything in between. He has worked with everyone from John Zorn and Giora Feidman to Michael Brecker and Chris Potter to Elvis Costello and Norah Jones. With an immediately recognizable tone, Rogers has all of his influences and priorities in order and is ready to break into the mainstream. I got a chance to talk with him at his apartment in New York City.
All About Jazz: This is your third record as a leader, so you've found your niche a little bit. I want to talk about your various influences. We'll start out with your education. How do you think your classical music education has contributed to what you're doing right now?
Adam Rogers: Well in a lot of different ways, as a guitarist, the fact that I studied classical music seriously for five years was a big influence on my sound on the guitar both acoustic and more peripherally electric. My exposure to all the classical music that I played and studied in college has affected me or influenced me as a listener and as a composer.
AAJ: How so as a listener?
AR: Well it opened me up to a lot of music that I might not have listened to had I not been playing classical music, such as Spanish guitar music, contemporary 20th century guitar music, chamber music, singing in a chorus. It was pretty much total immersion. Non orchestral instrumentalists had to sing in the chorus so I got exposed to a lot of music there. Renaissance music, Bach masses. Of course the classes were quite rigorous. Everything from ear training to Shenkerian analysis to studying four part harmony species counterpoint, and 20th century music, writing fugues. I was exposed to a lot of technical information that I would have gotten nowhere else but at a classical music school.
The information that I acquired in Mannes was information that I only could have gotten at a school; it's not stuff I could have learned playing gigs. Even in the playing of classical music there isn't as much applied music theory as when you're playing jazz; when you're playing jazz, you are constantly applying your knowledge of music theory in whatever way you've learned it because you're improvising and you're dealing with what scale goes over what chord at what time. In classical music you're playing something that's already written, so you don't really have to know what's going on in music theoretically to play what's written, although it's very helpful to.
AAJ: So then how does that in turn affect you from a composing standpoint in terms of making full compositions?
AR: I would say that none of my compositions directly reflect any of those formal techniques, like I don't write fugues or sonatas. But I think having internalized a lot of that information from my classical music studies has translated into a certain idea of how to write things that, where if I write two lines that are contrapuntal, I'm trying to write two lines that are truly working together as opposed to two lines that are just mirroring each other. My exposure to everything from Renaissance music to the most modern 20th century music has influenced me as a musician, I don't know exactly how it's translating, but that music is in my memory bank as something to draw on, something that's inspiring. And I still listen to a lot of classical music, so it's really affected me in a lot of different ways.
AAJ: That's something that I always find interesting, that everything you listen to, everything you ever hear, influences what comes out and everybody's unique in that way. I always find that amazing.
AR: Yeah if you listen to a lot of stuff and you're open to it and you really listen to it, it's bound to get into your information storage area and come back out as part of your being. I try not to ever mimic anything, but there are things where I write stuff where I go wow such and such was an influence while writing this composition. Actually the title track from Apparitions was really influenced as I said in the liner notes by the composer Morton Feldman. I don't know what kind of techniques he uses specifically; as I've never studied his music but listening to it a lot has been influential.
AAJ: In terms of influences let's talk about the people you've worked with as a sideman and as a co-leader. I'm just going to list some of the people you've worked with, and if you could tell me how working with them has influenced you as a leader and as a musician. We'll start with the Lost Tribe.
Boy, I mean that was 11 years we played together so there's a lot of things, the influence of each of the musicians in the band, David Binney, Fima Ephron, Ben Perowsky, David Gilmore, I mean they all influenced me greatly as musicians. You know I worked so closely with all of them and they're all such amazing musicians so in a lot of different ways were very influential. Ben I've been playing with since we were 16 or 17 years old and I've learned a lot about rhythm and general musical things from playing with him. Dave Binney is a great composer and a great improviser and we're great friends. We've talked a tremendous amount about music and he's been very influential, as has Fima Ephron. I mean that's a long story because we're all really close friends and so our relationship was not only as co-leaders of this project but as friends discussing life and music.
David Gilmore is a great guitarist as well as being a great composer so it was great to play with him and to play his music. His tunes have and had a lot of odd meters which I was not as familiar with at the time. Just the influence of having a band for 11 years that actually had some success and where we were able to tour and make some records that I feel very good about. We were doing exactly the kind of music that we wanted to do at the time. We weren't very concerned with anything except writing the kind of music we wanted to write. We would sit around and rehearse this music that was coming really from our hearts; we weren't concerned with it being popular. And to have an arena to express all of our compositional ideas was a really fantastic thing.