Jeremy Udden: Far From Plain
"I wrote a number of songs, then started playing gigs with this band," he adds. "It eventually formed as this particular unit. Then I really started writing songs specifically for this bandwhat I heard. Most of the songs started from a non-jazz place, in terms of the other music I was listening to. These guys, even though they all play in a lot of rock bands and play a lot of folkall kinds of different stuffthey all have a jazz background a little bit. ... We like to keep it spontaneous. We don't like to rehearse very much. It's not like a tight rock unit. It's more about trying to approach the songs from different angles on the gig. They're still improvisers in the group."
Udden says the folk influence in his music isn't so much deliberate as it is part of what he's feeling and where he is these days. "It's more organic than that. I didn't sit down and say I wanted to combine these elements in an album and then make it. It's more that I sit down and write something, and that's what's coming out when I write, these days. The musicians have a lot to do with it as well. They'll take it in a certain direction. I think it's having the right musicians to hear what I am hearing. Sometimes I've put these songs in front of more straight-ahead jazz musicians, and they take it in another way. Which is good, but it's not what I want. It's all happening very organically, writing as honestly as I can, then having the right musicians to hear what I'm going for."
Plainville is a band Udden is trying to keep working. The newer disk is a continuation of its earlier record. He also has a version of Plainville in Sweden and can play the music there when he travels to that country for gigs.
"There's an element of luck in finding the right people, then writing the right songs for the right people," says the composer. "It's a real cast of characters in this band. I'm happy to show their strengths on different songs. It's my songs, but their personalities come through on every song, which makes it as unique as it is. ... I'm very happy with it. We did it in a different type of studio. Pete Rende, the keyboardist, has a lot to do with the sound of this, and the last, record: he co-produced ... he mixed both of them. This one we did in a bigger studio. We were going to go to tape, but we didn't. We sort of stuck with older mics ... trying to make a pretty organic-sounding record that was a little grittier sounding. I'm pleased with the end result, definitely. This one was a little less home grown than the last one, but I think it still kind of sounds that way."
In the bucolic setting of the town that inspired the band's name, Udden was fortunate to have been exposed to good music. His parents didn't play instruments, but they had a lot of records. His father, specifically, was a huge Beatles fan. "I think it influences the Plainville stuff pretty directly," Udden notes. Udden's school had a good music program, and while in elementary school, the young Udden saw the high-school jazz band play a program that included a saxophone solo that blew him away. He was smitten, and started studying the instrument in school. He played with a ska punk band and other rock groups that began to stretch their wings into Boston and nearby Providence, Rhode Island. He discovered that he loved being part of a band. He also knew he wanted to start improvising more.
As he got into those aspects, Lee Konitz and Paul Desmond were influences. "I remember buying Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool (Capitol, 1957) just because I thought the title sounded neat. In my total inexperience, I thought it was going to be some kind of fusion record or something like that. That's probably where I first heard Lee. ... I remember staying up until three in the morning because the public radio station said they were going to do a set of Lee Konitz, and I taped it. It turns out it was the [Lennie] Tristano stuffa recording of 'Wow,' a song called 'Progression.' That stuff blew my mind when I was 16 or something like that."
Udden was steadfast in his practice habits on saxophone. He participated in competitions in school and won some awards. His father was an engineer, and his sister was pursuing engineering in college. But it was his father who said it would be a shame if he didn't do something with music, as involved and accomplished as he had become. With that urging, Udden says, "I think it was the first time it dawned on me. Soon after that, I applied to music schools. I got into New England Conservatory. I ended up staying there a long time. I went back because Steve Lacy had moved to town. He was another huge influence, and he was teaching there for a couple years. I was around that building for over six years, which is pretty crazy to think about."