Take Five With Zack Cross
Meet Zack Cross:
I am from a very WASPy suburb of Washington, DC known as Arlington, VA. I started playing piano when I was seven years old, and played only classical music until I was about 13 years old, when my grandfather gave me a Monk greatest hits compilation. I didn't even like it at first, but one day it suddenly clicked and from then I listened to it non-stop.
Teachers and/or influences?
Big ups to Pat Houston, she was my teacher for the longest time in Arlington. Alex Robinson, my band director at WashingtonLee High School was completely sick. He taught me so much about discipline and leadership. He also took our combo to play in several festivals, and he was always getting great clinicians. All around great guy.
Luke Gillespie, my teacher at IU was really great, as soon as I got there, in freshman year, he opened me up to a whole bunch of stuff. Basic harmony and theory, but to me it was mind blowing. Then there is of course the man, David Baker, jazz living legend. Not really much to say about that.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
When David took me to Ravinia to participate in the Steans Institute for Young Artists in Jazz, I had already done three years at IU, so I knew I wanted to play. But my time at Ravinia basically showed me how much fun it could be to play with people that were either on or above my own level, and to learn from them.
Your sound and approach to music:
I kind of just realized recently that I even have a particular sound. I play a line, then sort of just play the same thing (either rhythmically or melodically) in a different place on the piano. I like to let the line go where it wants to. Thinking too much is counterproductive. At least for me.
Your teaching approach:
I really like teaching beginning students, especially kids. I find that kids are the most receptive to new things and after you get over the initial hurdle of getting them to focus, it's so rewarding to hear them progress week after week.
Your dream band:
Sometime I would really like to get my boys Josh Johnson and Dustin Laurenzi to play with my trio. I also really love Mat Jodrell's playing, he is an Australian trumpeter that I got to work with at Ravinia. Brilliant composer. I generally don't like to work with anyone too much older than me unless I get along well. I have worked in a lot of bands with older cats who just think they are the shit because they have played for longer.
Road story: Your best or worst experience:
Luke (Angle) will kill me for saying this but when we were first getting started, he almost always would forget some essential part of his kit and we would have to get his mom to bring it or something. But it was tight.
I love Twins Jazz on U St. in DC. The vibe is super chill and its pretty easy to get a good crowd in there. Cafe Django in Bloomington, IN is fun, although I wish they would have fed us. I played a session one time at a place called Andy's (I think) in Chicago that was pretty cool. Except they kicked Luke off the stand which was dumb. We may not go back.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Up/Under, the new one, is really the only one to pick from. But, that being said, I think we sound pretty damn good on it. It swings and that's important.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Kind of Blue, like every middle school jazz kid.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I love playing popular music. On our new album we do a song by Nirvana, and another song by the Shins. I think that maybe the reason everyday people are turned off by the word "jazz" is because they are worried they won't know what's going on. But if they know the song and can recognize it, then you kind of get rid of that problem.
It's like what the original cats did with standards back before they were standards. They played show tunes or opera songs that people knew and could follow along even during the improvisation. But, anyway, I just know I get a lot of positive feedback (from people who aren't big in to jazz) that they dig my stuff because of the nods to modern popular culture. It's good to be relevant.
Did you know...
I am horrible at playing my arpeggios in that four-octave Hanon style.
CDs you are listening to now:
Right now: Adonis Rose, On The Verge (Criss Cross)l
Others: Willie "The Lion" Smith, Live in Zurich 1949;
Errol Garner, Concert By The Sea;
Robyn, Body Talk;
Das Racist, Sit Down, Man.