Saxophonist John O'Gallagher and Modern Jazz Composition
For me, visually, the sense of space, color, line and density, the architecture of music and painting are really very close together. That’s something that I continue to explore because I can see that it can be more and more refined. There definitely are parallels in painting and playing. When I improvise and compose [I’m} influenced by a visual sense of trying to create objects and color.
AAJ: That gives another way to verbalize the sensation of listening to your work, especially Abacus. There’s a real solidity to it. A real sensation that there’s something right there that you can look at from different angles.
JO: Right, right, exactly. Several of the pieces that have multiple layers on which the musicians can move up or down to create a sense of time and space. That gives the music a morphic sense, that its constantly evolving like a life-form. That’s what I was going for. That’s what interests me, and the guys on the record—I can’t say enough about how great they were.
AAJ: We haven’t touched on that enough, you’re approach as a bandleader. Are you a single take kinda guy? If you could take us through that, its always interesting to hear how someone moves from the compositional phase to bringing an album together in a studio.
JO: The inception of the group was myself Johannes [Weidenmueller] and Jeff [Hirshfield]. We’d been playing as a trio and on several gigs like that. A few of the pieces had been written as trio compositions. I wanted to expand the group and add guitar and piano. That’s when some of the other compositions came into being.
We rehearsed quite a bit, going back to the trio thing. So that gave a really solid sense to the essence of the rhythm section. Then we did rehearse quite a bit with the rest of the quintet. I’m basically a whatever-feels-good kinda guy. First take, second take, whatever makes the best performance. If that happens on the first take, that’s fine. When we recorded this record—If I remember right—we didn’t do a whole lot of takes. We maybe did three takes on one tune, maybe a couple of takes on the other tunes. That was about it.
AAJ: So not a lot of post-production editing.
JO: Not really. I think there was one place we edited. The essence of the music is really live group. I wanted that to be what the record was about, as opposed to a production, studio entity. I wanted it to be something you could go out and see, something you could experience live. For me, being an improviser, the action and reaction that you get with live musicians is something that you can’t duplicate in a studio setting when you try to mix things, move them around. So really, in essence it’s just a live record.
AAJ: It’s an impressive feat to create these pieces that sound to intricately and exactly placed, live.
JO: That was the challenge, and that’s a tribute to the amazing musicianship of Jeff, Johannes, Ben [Monder] and Russ [Lossing]. They’re some of the best in New York. They make those things sound easy when they’re incredibly difficult. Its pretty mind blowing how great they are.
AAJ: You have a tour coming up, so everyone should be looking out for you to visit their city soon, right?
JO: That’s right. I’m working on getting to as many as I can.
AAJ: Any other projects in the works?
JO: There are a few things. There’s a collaborative group, we did a trio recording that will probably be coming out in the spring or summer. Masa Kamaguchi on bass and Jay Rosen on Drums. Basically, it’s a recording of some free pieces and reevaluations of standards. That’ll be out on CIMP. I’m heading to Canada, and I’ll be in Maine doing a concert for the Maine Jazz Camp which we’ve taught at before.
AAJ: That’s a great program.
JO: We’re doing a little benefit there. I think it’s the 20th anniversary and they’re having a lot of former faculty come up to do a concert. My main focus right now, though, is putting together our European tour and than the American tour.
AAJ: Sounds like things are really cookin’.
JO: Well, its always tough out there though, let me tell ya brother.
AAJ: Let me congratulate you again, its really a great album. I’m a huge fan of Arabesque, I think they bring in a lot of innovative people. Good luck with everything and thank you for taking time out to talk with us.
JO: It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Visit John O'Gallagher on the web at www.johnogallagher.com .