Jonathan Kreisberg: Unearthed
JK: It was definitely a big change on both levels. There were some really talented people there who were already delving deep into the jazz tradition. I came along with plenty of creativity and chops, but basically got a major wakeup call in regards to the importance of knowing the jazz language. It was really good for me as a player. I had a great teacher named J.B. Dyas, who helped me structure my practicing and shifted my focus to learning tunes and absorbing the jazz language.
AAJ: After graduating from high school, you were awarded a scholarship to attend the University of Miami. Can you talk about your decision to attend college, instead of pursuing your professional career right out of high school, and what you felt you learned in school that helped you once you moved to New York?
JK: I had actually thought about just playing and maybe moving to New York right out of high school. In hindsight, it would've been too early and I really learned a lot during my time at UM. Randall Dollahon, who I studied with, was a great teacher. I also met the guys that would become my first trio, and we had some great times playing and hanging together.
AAJ: Your first post-college trio was an electric group based out of Miami. Who were the other members of this first trio, and how did you meet these musicians?
JK: The group was bassist Javier Carrion and drummer Vince Verderame, we played together in a band called Third Wish that was kind of a progressive rock thing with a lot of intricate writing and improvising. We started playing gigs on the side as my jazz trio and realized something special was happening. We ended up touring the East Coast a bit, and I think I really began forming my identity as an artist and band leader at that point. We were also the best of friends and had a great time jamming and hanging.
AAJ: After finding success with your electric trio, you opened for Steve Morse and George Benson among others, you felt the need to move from Miami to New York. What were the factors that necessitated this move, and did the change of scenery affect you musically?
JK: Having been born in New York, it really felt like it was about getting back to my roots. This was true on a personal level, but also as a student of jazz. The emphasis put on the importance of swinging and learning the jazz language was really heavy in New York at that time, so it all just happened naturally.
Living in Miami, I had become a bit too focused on the texture and communication aspects of music. I just wanted to delve deeper into the tradition and work on the craft of being a jazz musician. At that time I began playing a lot with Ari Hoenig and Johannes Weidenmueller.
We recorded a disc called Trioing (New for Now Music, 2000) that documented what we were up to musically at that time in our careers. Years later, I got a lot of cats telling me how much they dug and were influenced by that record, and I had barely finished paying for the mix-down by selling some of the amps that I had used in Miami [laughs].
AAJ: You have recorded and performed in many different ensemble configurations, from organ trios to acoustic quintets and more. How does a change in the size and make-up of your ensemble affect the way you approach the music, as both a composer and improviser?
JK: Playing in different size ensembles definitely effects my role as a guitarist. For instance, if there is another harmonic instrument, such as piano or organ, obviously it will change if and how I approach playing chords.
Every situation is unique in this respect. I might play things differently depending on who is playing piano, or what the audience's energy feels like, or what kind of mood the band is in that day. That's the organic beauty of jazz. It's a real living music.
AAJ: Now that you have spent a number of years performing mostly in acoustic groups is this where you see yourself musically for the foreseeable future, or can you envision a time in the future when you return to a more electric based group?
JK: It's tough to say. My group now already straddles the acoustic-electric zone a bit. I sometimes use effects on my guitar, and we've used the Fender Rhodes, for example.
The only major difference would probably be to use an electric bass, but that always seems to change up the overall feel of the band. My main issue with the electric bass is the lack of dynamics. In my experience, the acoustic bass seems to provide a more organic feel, and makes the drummer approach things differently. With the electric bass, the drummer seems to go into "lock up the kick with the bass" mode and becomes a bit more heavy-footed.
I tend to prefer bass players who grew up with some experience playing and getting a sound on an electric. That way when they play upright, they can really get the groove thing happening and use the amp on some tunes. They know what it's supposed to feel like. Then you can go wherever the music takes you.