Gary Smulyan: Low Man Aims High
Upon returning from Russia, this Labor Day weekend will find him at the Chicago Jazz Festival with the Dave Holland big band. The next day, he appears with both Holland's octet and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts. Later this fall, his travels will include an October visit to the Pacific Northwest, where he will be artist-in-residence at some high schools in the Seattle area. Returning closer to home, he will play the Blue Note with Jon Faddis, and then go on a five-city European tour with the nonet of fellow Herman alumnus Joe Lovano. Then back home as a guest artist with the U.S. Air Force's big band, the Airmen of Note in the Washington area. The Jazz Cruise with Ken Peplowski takes him to sea.
That's a lot of work, he admits, returning to another familiar refrain: "I feel blessed to be able to play the baritone at this time."
Recent weeks have seen various articles about the future of jazz, and not all of them very optimistic. Terry Teachout's Wall Street Journal piece, asking "Can Jazz Be Saved," comes to mind. Smulyan has a more positive outlook, arguably because he is out there, performing for and talking with audiences about the music.
The Newport Jazz Festival issued a press release noting the increasing crowds for its 55th rendition, and while producer George Wein saw fit to broaden the talent perspective, to the extent of including rapper Mos Def, this doesn't bother Smulyan. "George Wein is trying to present authentic jazz at his festivals. At these day-long events, people will hear some great music. But these are challenging times to be one hundred percent purist," he avers. "Everything is a crossover, anyway. Frankie Laine. Coldplay, you name it. The categories are blurred."
Smulyan says he has first-hand evidence that encourages his optimism. "I travel all over the world, and I see young musicians really passionate about the music. This music will go on forever. It will not pass away into nothing."
To support this view, he offers that Mondays at the Vanguard are packed. In fact, "everywhere I play is packed. As long as the audiences are there, and young musicians are compelled to succeed and play, this music will be here. There will always be doomsayers. Judging by studying, jam sessions, musicians playing on a high and deep level, I don't see much to worry about."
Gary Smulyan, High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine (Reservoir, 2009)
Gary Smulyan, More Treasures (Reservoir, 2007)
John Fedchock, Up and Running (Reservoir, 2007)
Gary Smulyan, Hidden Treasurers (Reservoir, 2006)
Gary Smulyan, Real Deal (Reservoir, 2003)
Dave Holland Big Band, What Goes Around (ECM Records, 2002)
Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All Stars, Things to Come (Telarc, 2002)
Tom Harrell, Art of Rhythm (RCA, 1998)
Conrad Herwig, Latin Side of John Coltrane (Astor Place Records, 1996)
Benny Green, The Place To Be (Blue Note, 1994)
Woody Herman, Woody and Friends at the Monterey Jazz Festival (Concord, 1979)
All Photos: Hans Speekenbrink