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Tony Grey: Stepping out of the Shadows

By Published: April 14, 2009

AAJ: Have you played any gigs to promote your album?

TG: I had a few gigs in the US and I did a week in Japan and about a week of festivals in Slovakia, and I've done a bunch of clinics to promote it—not as much as I would have liked to. I was always scared to do my own music; even when I was at school, I never put together my own band even though I was writing a lot. I was one of those people who always thought what I was doing wasn't that good, and I didn't want to impose on people because I was kind of shy.

I got myself into a situation where I was offered a good gig. I accepted it and then was freaking out whether I'd be able to pull it off or not. But I got a good reaction and a taste for it. I'm starting to record music for my next record and I really want to make that my priority.

AAJ: What musicians were you using for the live gigs?

TG: I had two groups—I had a quintet with (trumpeter) Elliot Mason and (trombonist) Brad Mason. Elliot was on Chasing Shadows. He plays with Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
and Brad plays with John Mayer. They are great musicians. I was using Obed Calvaire on drums, who has played with Richard Bona
Richard Bona
Richard Bona
bass, electric
and who's very active around New York. I had pianist Oli Rockberger, and that was my quintet.

Then I got offered a gig but they requested a quartet and I got Gregoire Maret

Gregoire Maret
Gregoire Maret
the harmonica player and did a bunch of gigs with him. His sound really fit my music. So for any gigs I get now, I'm going to use Greg Maret, Obed, and a new pianist called Romain Collin who played on my first record. We're starting to do more stuff together now; he's more into electronica and is really versatile.

AAJ: So the musicians you were using for live gigs were pretty much the line-up on Chasing Shadows. That must have been quite nice to have those same musicians playing live with you.

TG: Oh, it was great because they have always been my favorite musicians. These guys have emerged as some of the top young jazz musicians in the world today. My goal was to use young guys who inspire me and who I've been hanging around with. To have the opportunity to play with them live was a dream come true. The music really developed live and totally changed. It was really cool to see how it was played live, actually.

AAJ: In what way did it change when it was performed live?

TG: Everything just kind of really opened up. We did some reharmonization of the melodies and I just let everybody do their thing. The musicianship is really strong and I feel that they all have a really strong sense of who they are as musicians. I didn't want to inhibit anyone in any way, so when we were rehearsing I just kept all the sections really open and just let everybody away and develop the sound with it. It was less of a thing where there's a solo and then a solo—there's no one really soloing. Everyone is following everyone else and we just see who wants to take the lead or who wants to drop out, just to see where it goes.

Tony GreyAAJ: So a kind of Joe Zawinul

Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
1932 - 2007
-type philosophy.

TG: Yeah, and sometimes we'd end up playing in a duo or a trio, or someone would play solo. It was really open you know, and if the melodies were strong then we could just lead into a melodic section and take it wherever it would go. It was really nice, man.

AAJ: In Chasing Shadows, pianist Oli Rockberger's sound is quite an important feature of the album and he has a lovely melodic sound. You've played with him for a long time, haven't you?

TG: We've been good friends all the way through Berklee. I was playing in his band and he was doing my thing. The only problem is because we know each other so well, and we know each other's playing so well, it's easy to fall into a trap of being safe.

You know, if you're on stage you can think, "It's not broken, so don't fix it." But that's something that we were both very aware of and we were trying different ways of inspiring each other and bringing in musicians like Gregoire (Maret) and Elliot (Mason) and just trying to mix it up. It was good, man. It was definitely a very self-realizing experience.

AAJ: At Berklee, to what degree are students encouraged to compose music for their instruments as opposed to just learning their instruments.

TG: You know it's interesting , you can do a songwriting major in Berklee, though I don't know much about it, as my major was performance so I was just studying my instrument. But it's interesting what you say because, looking back on it, even my first teacher back in England advised me, "Whatever you do, try and write your own music because at the end of the day that's what you have—that's yours, your voice." But when I went to Berklee, I mean, throughout my four years, nobody ever encouraged me to write a piece of music.

AAJ: That seems odd, no?

TG: At the time, I was absorbed in what they were teaching me and thinking, "OK, that's the way it should be," but looking back on it, I think composition is the way to find yourself and your voice. Out of nothing, you have to create something, and I think you learn a lot about your instrument and how to play your instrument—soloing and all the rest of it—just by composing. Now, looking back on it, when I teach students I always get them to compose, even if it's four bars or four chords to solo over, to try and be creative and express themselves.

It's a real confidence thing as well because a lot of musicians suffer from insecurity. I was a very insecure musician throughout Berklee but after I started composing and getting feedback—good and bad feedback—I started to grow as a musician and grow in my confidence. I think it's really important and I'm surprised I didn't do more at school.

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