Tyshawn Sorey: Composite Reality
Sorey's early drum and percussion mentors at William Paterson were diverse in both their stature as musicians and their effect on the young drummer. Among those he encountered were jazz drummers like John Riley, Bill Goodwin and Kevin Norton, who all managed to impress different aspects of drumming and musicianship. "[Riley] impressed that you don't always just listen to jazz drumming and even though I was listening to other types of music, at the time I only wanted to be the workinest jazz drummer I could be and only play in that style. What he told me was that I need to check out African music and Indian music and other stuff like that. After every lesson, he would give me recommendations and then I would come back to the next lesson with questions and they would go over the scheduled hour with the talking that we did. I don't think he really talked to other drummers as much as he did with me. He recommended me the Royal Hartigan book of African rhythms and also recommended books on Hindustani and Carnatic music as well. "
With Goodwin, he initially clashed with the LA drummer. Sorey had reached a point wherein he was involved with more "free" playing and wasn't particularly interested in traditional drum pedagogy. What could have been an awkward experience, however, managed to be a worthwhile mentorship on extra-musical properties. "I just walked into a lesson saying I didn't want to talk about drums or time or trading fours at all; I just wanted to talk about life. That became our study period ever since. He gave me a copy of Effortless Mastery, the Kenny Werner book, which was leading toward a way of making music that I felt like I was doing but actually needed to work on more. We would just have lunch together and just talk about how to appreciate each moment, even if it's a bad one, because there's always something to learn."
Sorey also gained much of his influence in the compositional world at William Paterson, some of which came from the classical faculty like Jeffery Kresky and Elliot Carter scholar John Link, but also from drummer/vibraphonist/composer Kevin Norton. "When I was starting to write in the language that I was hearing as opposed to writing over 'traditional' harmonies and 32-bar form, [Norton] told me, 'Well that's fine and all, but you really have to know every part like the back of your hand, to the point where if a musician questions a part and questions your musical judgment, you have to be able to explain it in an effective way,' which was very good for me."
Sorey's post-graduate career was filled with noteworthy engagements as a drummer, ranging from Dave Douglas's NOMAD ensemble to Vijay Iyer. Sorey continued to flesh out the concept of the Oblique songbook with early inceptions of the group. Some of the current standing members, like saxophonist Loren Stillman, had been there from the beginning, but both members and the sound/textural concepts of the group have changed since the first outing.
"I didn't really think about creating a body of this music until I started playing it regularly in about 2005 at Zebulon [in Brooklyn]," says Sorey. "I had done it as a senior recital at WPUNJ in 2004, which went okay. Loren Stillman he was on that recital and has been playing that music ever since, but as far as the other guys, I needed to find some people who were able to deal with this material in the same way that I was dealing with it. It's very difficult to play as far as keeping your place, because the parts are weaving in and out of each other."
The quintet was initially rounded out with pianist Carl Maguire and bassist Carlo DeRosa. Sorey and company began finding themselves in a scenario wherein initial mistakes were not thought of as errors, but as new structural material. Ryan Clackner joined the group on guitar, which eventually solidified the alto/guitar sound concept seen in the group today. The group would move in and out of different numerical arrangements (sometimes up to eight musicians at a time), slowly developing the nuances of the tricky songbook.
However, something significant happened in Sorey's composition approach once he visited Japan in 2006. "I went to Japan that same year and visited a monastery when I had a day off. When I returned, my interest in Zen Buddhism began, not just in terms of my own well being but also musically. I felt that the music that I was doing was good music but there was something that didn't really resonate with me correctly. At that point, I felt like it was difficult music for difficulty's sake."