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Jack Reilly: Making the Most of the Gift of Life

By Published: January 14, 2008
When I say there is no composer that has married classical and jazz [that] well, I would like to think I have achieved some [success] with that. Rodgers was a song form composer, so his greatest songs will last. Jazz players who compose something on top of "All the Things You Are" harmonies; to me that is a cop out. Parker did it and Lennie Tristano did it all the time. When you think like the composer and come up with a structure that has an appeal to jazz players, [then] they're challenged by it. "My Funny Valentine," to me I shied away from it for years because of the opening—descending bass lines you can't get away from. "Everything I Love," by Cole Porter, I reworked. If you read the piano chart, it is the simplest thing in the world. When I first approached it I said, "Oh wow." I sat down and tried to re-harmonize it. I did it and put it away for years. I took it out and played it in London for the last couple of years and it is totally different.

AAJ: Who best represents a new direction in the music today to you?

JR: That's hard. I say George Russell right off the top of my head. He has a very special kind of vocabulary; so developed out of his theory, the Lydian Chromatic theory. I studied with George, too. It was about four lessons over two years. Because I had to learn what was in each chapter.

AAJ: Was Russell the one who got Miles Davis to play Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959)?

JR: No, Bill Evans did. Bill had the whole modal thing down, and Miles knew and Miles learned from him. George's modal thinking is totally different. His thinking, you might say, is diametrically opposed to anything that jazz players have to face. His theory makes it easy to superimpose scales over chords. There's no tonality in George's music. There's no key.

AAJ: Despite your prolific and accomplished career you remain relatively under the radar to the mainstream listener. To what do you attribute this?

JR: As I look back now, it's partly not having the network, [like] where a major label is behind me. I had to do it all myself. It's not that I didn't play in public a lot. Since I've gone out of my way to get my name in the trades it's slowly coming around.

Jack Reilly AAJ: Of all the students that you taught is there anyone that particularly stands out as someone who has found a distinctive voice on the instrument?

JR: Most of my students do find a distinctive voice and don't become as famous as Bill Charlap, but he was a student of mine in his teens. He had already shown a lot of finesse [before coming to me]. He was with me weekly. I don't like to say he has his own voice because of me. The way I teach, as I said before- -very slowly, note-to-note, there's a special path to go through where you develop your own individuality immediately. You're forced to hear your own way. Kevin Hays was with me and he showed great promise.

AAJ: Any contemporary players that you find particularly interesting?

JR: I found Jacki Byard, of course he is not with us now—tragic death— some of his things I liked. Europeans, I like Howard Riley. American, I like a lot of Keith Jarrett's stuff with the Jan Garbarek Group, and also when he was with the Dewey Redman quartet. His classical chops are okay; he has everything, but to act like he did in Umbria [2007 jazz festival], that is just not [right].

AAJ: You're a freeform player What about freeform like Cecil [Taylor]?

JR: I can't warm up to that. I don't get it.

AAJ: What life accomplishment are you most proud of so far?

JR: My writing of "Orbitals" in residency and playing it twice. Happily married to a wonderful person who is also a musician, Carol [is] a wonderful pianist and an incredibly intuitive player. It is not an accomplishment, it just makes life beautiful when you have a partner that understands and shares these things. I don't see it ever falling into a routine.

Mostly my musical life, singling out the choral works, my compositions. The more recordings I do. The last two I think are my best recordings, representations of my music, [like] Innocence - Green Spring Suite and the one that is coming out, the live trio concert [from England], The Jack Reilly Trio Live at Dean Clough that has a lot of recent things on it.

AAJ: Is there any artist that you regret not having had the opportunity to play with?

Jack Reilly JR: Not really. I played with Zoot [Sims] one weekend, which was great. I played with Phil [Woods] when he first got on the New York scene for eight weeks on Staten Island. Everyone was talking about him. It was four nights a week and I was in the Manhattan School of Music, and after two weeks I could swing on anything; pick a tune. That is how great that was. He was calling out the chord changes to me. Talk about feeling and projecting emotion. Phil has it. He has it one hundred percent.

AAJ: Any advice for struggling young musicians?

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Download jazz mp3 “Oncological” by Jack Reilly
  • Oncological
  • Jack Reilly
  • Innocence: Green Spring Suite