Jamie Saft: Experience Transcending the Speakers
Quite often the busiest ones are the ones behind the scenes. Musician, producer and sound engineer Jamie Saft is one of those figures on the Downtown New York music scene. He operates his own Frank Booth studio in Brooklyn, where many of the Tzadik label releases are recorded; he plays and records with such prominent leaders as John Zorn's Electric Masada, Bobby Previte's new band Coalition of the Willing, Dave Douglas' Keystone ensemble and Jane Ira Bloom's quartet.
Saft has played in the past with such diverse acts as composer John Adams' opera I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, Laurie Anderson, Elysian Fields, Anthony and the Johnsons and Groove Collective. On all these projects and many others he presents a stylistic versatility that blends elements of reggae, dub, metal, blues and surf rock with more sophisticated forms of jazz. His multi-instrumentalist capabilities are intertwined with his affinity for vintage instruments such as the Fender Rhodes, mellotron, MiniMoog and other analog synthesizers.
Last year Saft recorded the first installment of John Zorn's second Masada songbook, Astaroth, Book of Angels Volume 1: Jamie Saft Trio Plays Masada Book Two. This was Saft's first release as a leader in three years and his first as leader of a piano trio, but Saft promises more interesting releases including a second one by his piano trio, this time covering Bob Dylan songs, and the debut of his new band, The Jamie Saft Blues Explosion.
Based on an email interview, Saft speaks here in his own laconic way about his background, his ongoing work with musical partners Zorn and Previte, his distinctive sound as a player and about future plans.
I was born in Flushing, Queens, NY, 1971. I studied piano from age three and studied classical piano extensively with technical guru Burton Hatheway from age seven. I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, ZZ Top, AC/DC, Bob Dylan, Prince, James Brown, Pink Floyd, Sly. I began playing professionally during high school with regular gigs at jazz clubs with small ensembles, big bands, and many solo piano gigs. I also played with rock and funk bands. I went to the same high school as Charles Ives in New Haven, Connecticut. I completed a double degree program at New England Conservatory and Tufts University. I studied with Joe Maneri, Cecil McBee, Paul Bley and Geri Allen, and then moved back to New York in 1993.
Playing John Zorn's Masada Song Book II
Book II is a clear extension of John's first book. Hundreds of tunes which are transformed by the composer/performer on the spot into various forms. As with the first book, John writes music for musicians, not just for the composer. So the pieces have many different forms that could come out of these gestures. Each piece only takes up half of a page, but there is so much music in three lines.
Our piano trio record came out of years of discussion between Zorn and I. Zorn had wanted an acoustic piano trio record from me for a long time, but my interests have been more in electric music for many years, so we needed to find a context in which a "Jazz Piano Trio record had meaning for me.
Then John wrote the new book of Masada tunes and suddenly there was a huge new body of work, some of which Zorn had written with my piano trio in mind. John's music has a great deal of resonance personally, spiritually, and musically for me. Zorn and I were born a few blocks from each other in what was a very Jewish neighborhood in Queens and we have that heavy New York Jewish connection. So with the new book, there was the context for a piano trio record that really meant something to me. Not just another retread of old standards or trite covers of modern rock tunes, neither of which I want anything to do with. But modern original Jewish music written by one of the heavies.
Working with John Zorn
It's been an honor to be a part of the Zorn/Tzadik scene. I met John through Harvey Pekar and Dave Douglas, both of whom got Zorn a record Cuong Vu and I had made called Ragged Jack which John put out on Avant in 1997. After that he started calling me for studio sessions as a pianist and keyboard player. I played on records like Taboo and Exile (Tzadik, 1999), The Gift (Tzadik, 2001), many, many film scores, and many other releases.
And being part of the Radical Jewish Culture (RJC) series in so many different ways, as a composer, artist, musician, engineer, producerI believe will stand as some of my most important work. The RJC series is chronicling modern Jewish music in our time. In hundreds of years, the RJC series will stand as the greatest document of great Jewish music from our generation.