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Jay Anderson: Driving the Bus

By Published: April 18, 2011
AAJ: Hopefully this will be an ongoing project, because As you Like is such a great record.

JA: Thank you; we hope the same. Yeah, we'll do more.

BANN; From left: Adam Nussbaum, Seamus Blake, Jay Anderson, Oz Noy

AAJ: "Guinevere" is a powerful song, but the interpretation on this album takes the song somewhere really quite special. It raises the question why more pop tunes of the modern era haven't entered the jazz canon. Do you have a theory on that?

JA: That's interesting. Certainly it's been done. I remember Oscar Peterson recorded "Satisfaction" 35 years ago. Jazz players were used to certain elements, whether it's the melody, the format for improvisation or the harmonic content of the song, so it was kind of awkward for a while. I think people have done it with varying degrees of success.

AAJ: Do you think the fact that the standards from the Great American Songbook have prevailed for so long and that relatively few more modern pop tunes are in the jazz repertory points to a fundamental conservatism in mainstream jazz?

JA: I hope that jazz will never shake itself of the Great American Songbook because there's something universal about those tunes. One of the beautiful aspects of that music is that you could be almost anywhere in the world, and can make music immediately. Pop music is less harmonically driven today. The way most jazz musicians learn the music, you need something harmonically to grab onto.

AAJ: One standard on As You Like is the Jerome Kern classic "All the Things You Are," and there's a quite different sounding version of it on another terrific recording, Something Sentimental (Kind Of Blue Records, 2009) with saxophonist Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
, guitarist John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
and Adam Nussbaum. Is it difficult to take a song you've played perhaps hundreds of times and then play it in a very different way?

JA: Not at all. I have never ever grown tired of playing "All the Things You Are" or tunes like it because, fortunately, I'm usually playing it with great players. You think of one of the most famous recordings in jazz, Sonny Meets Hawk (RCA Victor, 1963), with Paul Bley's solo on "All the Things You Are," which has been seen as a pivotal moment in the development of the linear jazz language. I've played with Paul many times and played standards with him, and it's a pleasure. I've played "All the Things You Are" with Frank Kimbrough
Frank Kimbrough
Frank Kimbrough
, and Vic Juris
Vic Juris
Vic Juris
has a version on A Second Look (Mel Bay Records, 2005) where it's a slow, sensuous bossa nova—the melody is intact but harmonically it is completely de- and reconstructed. It's a pleasure to play.

AAJ: Something Sentimental sounds like it was an enjoyable session.

JA: When you're playing with Adam, John Abercrombie and Dave Liebman, it's kind of close your eyes and go. The [Another Nuttree] session was fairly democratic. They were all tunes we knew, and we recorded the project in a day. It was a very interesting record. Most listeners are familiar with Dave Liebman and John Abercrombie as composers, leaders and as improvisers. I think it's really interesting to hear them play on those tunes. It really puts their approach to improvisation in a context you can relate to: "Ah, so this how John Abercrombie would play 'All the Things you Are.'" The joy of discovery that John, Lieb and Adam brought to this material was absolutely fantastic. I mixed, mastered and edited the record, and could really sit there and listen to what they were playing; and although these tunes have been played thousands of times, they sounded as fresh as anything. That's the beauty of these standards.

AAJ: Coming back to As You Like, two of your tunes, "Will Call" and the beautiful "At Sundown" appear. Is that the first time you've dusted down these tunes since you recorded them on your two solo albums or have you played these tunes throughout the years?

JA: I did my own records in the early/mid '90s, and then since then I've been so busy as a sideman, my own projects haven't been a priority. Certainly there are people who are sidemen and find/make the time to lead their own projects. I have recorded "Will Call" on projects by Vic Juris and [trombonist] Mike Fahn. We were all bringing material to the table, and those tunes were my contribution. Oz with his bottleneck on "At Sundown" is just brilliant.

AAJ: His playing really transforms what was already a very beautiful tune; he takes it to somewhere special. It sounds like he's playing Hawaiian guitar.

JA: [Laughs.] It was just his regular guitar with a bottleneck. When we ran through the head, Oz said immediately: "Oh, we've got to do this tune." He had this little glimmer in his eye, and then he whipped out the bottleneck. I wrote the tune 20 years ago, and it was like, "Ah, that's what I've been waiting for 20 years to hear!" [Laughs.] He really got it.

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