Jeremy Udden: Far From Plain
In his senior year, Udden joined Russ Gershon and the Either/Orchestra. "I got a passport for the first time and missed most of my last semester, says Udden. "We went to Italy, then did a Midwest tour. I played with them for seven years. I owe Russ a lot. I learned a lot from him about how to run a band. He and I got along well because he also had a rock background, and was trying to run a jazz band more like a rock band, in a way. I've never been able to do what he does, which is ... we'd rehearse once week. It's very hard to get people to do that in New York. I always admired that. What he's done is a miracle. [Either/Orchestra] has been together for more than 25 years now. In the seven years I was in it, there were a lot of people in and out of the band."
Plainville, from left: Brandon Seabrook, Pete Rende, Eivind Opsvik, Jeremy Udden, RJ Miller
The band got Udden exposure and got his name into print in various publications. He'd get a long featured solo each set. "I had never had that before. To do that in front of large audiences at festivals was a really important part of my development. Russ certainly gives his guys the freedom to do that. When I joined, the band was tipping toward its Ethiopian thing, so it was less of a straight-ahead bandmore open grooves, funk, even rock-ish sort of grooves related to Ethiopian feels. That influenced me a lot seeing how audiences related to that. Being able to play with those rhythm sections was a real opportunity for me. Soon after, I made my first record. But that was influencing me along the way."
After taking time to tour, Udden returned to the New England Conservatory (NEC) and worked with Lacy. After finishing and then getting his master's degree, he made his first album, Torchsongs (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2005). "That record was a whole other process. I had written a lot of music and had a few gigs around town, but didn't really have a working band. That record has Matt Wilson and Ben Monder. I knew Matt a little bit from the Either/Orchestra connection. I knew Ben a little bit. He was teaching at NEC at the time. I put together the session. That was a great learning experience: stressful, but very good."
A funny thing happened around that time. In 2005, Udden ended up going to China "with the intention of living there forever, because I had one friend that was there," he says gleefully. "People were playing, and they were really busy. I was getting sick of Boston. The Either/Orchestra was feeling like it was running its course. I just needed a change. So I went to China. Played a lotbelieve it or not, I was playing my music.
"[Shanghai] is kind of known for these funny hotel gigs, with people playing straight-ahead stuff. But there was this one club, called JZ Club, where I was playing three nights a week. It was the one creative club in town. It was an amazing time. It was the club that at the end of night all the musicians show up at and there's a jam session. It felt very old school: Chinese musicians, a lot of European expatriate musicians and American expatriate musicians." Though gigs were plentiful, "they were kind of either straight-ahead or kind of fusiony," Udden adds. "That's what I quickly realized, which is why I left. It only took three months to realize I know all the best musicians here, and I'm playing with them already. So, like everybody else, I went to New York.
Upon his return, Udden was still playing with the Either/Orchestra in Boston, but he got an apartment in New York City. "I was back and forth. That was in 2005-06. That's when I started meeting and playing with the musicians that would turn into the first Plainville record. I started writing that music and doing different gigs around town with different musicians, and eventually the band formed. I reconnected with Brandon, then it started taking shape."
He eventually settled in Brooklyn, home to many of the city's fine young musical minds. "For me, it was very much like moving there with friends," he recalls. "We were playing there a lot. George Garzone hooked me up with the apartment. He was a teacher of mine. By the end in Boston, I was doing gigs here and there, where we were on the same gig, so we always kept in touch. So we lived below George [in Brooklyn], three guys in a two-bedroom. It was difficulta bad New York situation, but really fun nonetheless.
Udden was still hitting with the Either/Orchestra and sometimes with Darcy James Argue. Pianist Frank Carlberg was also a steady partner. "A lot of it was reconnecting with people from Boston that had already moved, and I hadn't played with them in a while. I was traveling a little bit with the singer Dominique Eade, another Boston person who also teaches at NEC."