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A New Face - Make Mine an OliRockberger Please- with Zero Cheese!

By Published: October 3, 2003

Gilad Ronin, a young saxophonist from Israel on his way to the Monk Institute, is another favorite as well as tenor player Walter Smith III. Japanese drummer Akira Nakamura, guitarist/producer Josh Sadlier Brown from Canada, and vocalist Nia Allen are also favorites of mine. So many superb musicians come to Berklee every term and I'm convinced that I went to school with some of the best young musicians in the world.

AAJ: How did you find the current guys in your band?

I met Tony half way through my first term at Berklee and Chris in my second. We played together for a while on other people's projects, and regularly at Lucky's Lounge, a club in South Boston. During this period the three of us have developed a deep personal and musical connection. We've been playing my original music since February ?03.

AAJ: So you just came off some gigs at a pretty major English jazz festival. How'd that happen?

OR: A friend of mine who is from the town where the Festival is held (Brecon) had the details for the man who books the groups. I sent him an email and a disk and he really liked it. We then entered negotiations.

AAJ: I understand you've recently completed a demo. Can you explain some of the concept and focus behind it?

OR: When it was confirmed that we were going to be performing at Brecon, I decided that we had to have some kind of high quality recording with us. It is virtually impossible to promote a performance without a disc, and I wanted to start to build some kind of following. You need people to have your music, to remember you, and to start to take an interest in your career movements. So we recorded a few vocal tunes, some instrumental ones, and a solo piano piece, all with John Weston at Futura Productions in Boston. It was a pleasure working with him. I am very happy with how the EP turned out-it's seven tracks - and we hope that it can help open the door to more recording and performing opportunities in the very near future!

AAJ: Tell us about some of the gigging you've done with folks with a bit of name recognition.

OR: Since attending Berklee I had the chance to perform with visiting artists to the college- Abe Laboriel, Frank McComb with Branford Marsalis, and Jackie DeShannon, and clinics with Patti Austin and Greg Philinganes.

AAJ: Any other sideman work you'd like to hip the audience to?

OR: I've performed at the Berklee with guitarist and faculty member David Fiuczynski of the Screaming Headless Torsos, Michel N'degeocello, Christian McBride, etc., which was a great honor. He is a true artist, producing exciting music at the very cutting edge. I have also performed with gospel/R&B singer Larry Watson a tremendous performer and vocalist. We played at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, and more recently, Fenway Park!

AAJ: What axes do you focus on with your projects? Is it mostly acoustic? Certainly the demo is.Have you always also played Rhodes and synth, or is that a relatively recent development?

OR: My project is mainly acoustic. I consider myself a pianist above all and right now my music is written with the piano in mind, although it could change in the future. I have a MOTIF 8 which is great for writing on and I am hoping to combine it with acoustic piano in my live performances in the near future. I am a great fan of the Yamaha P80 stage piano series and use that a lot for gigs. Actually, I don't own a Rhodes but hope to have one of my own someday. I'm a big Rhodes fan- one of my favorite Rhodes players is Frank McComb, who's amazing- particularly his use of effects, wah, phasing, and overall touch.

In terms of synth versus electric piano versus acoustic, it really depends on the project which I am being asked to do. Of course as a sideman, I'll do whatever the artist wants. Given the choice though, I am more a piano man I love playing acoustic piano on pop, folk and gospel tracks. This is my strength as a sideman and is what I'm called for. I recently played acoustic piano on a track for UK pop star Ronan Keating (Boy Zone). I was also called to play on a record for UK jazz/gospel saxophonist Mark Bunney, and on a country/folk record for American singer/songwriter Duncan Waters.

AAJ: In terms of harmonic territory, are there particular sources that you would point interested people towards? What books or recordings would you particularly advise students of harmony, improvisation and "time" concepts to seek out?

OR: Brazilian harmony has been invaluable to me, and opened many doors in my writing. There is so much to be learned from Brazilian artists like Milton Nascimiento, Gilberto Gil, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Ivan Lins. For improvisation I really like Hal Crook's How to Improvise which has amazing concepts and ways of practicing and applying them. Dave Liebman's Chromatic Concepts in Improvisation is also very interesting. Another book by Dave Liebman called Portrait of a Jazz Artist is a great book dealing with many musical, and business issues which jazz artists have to face.

AAJ: Are there particular elements of improvisation that are particularly fruitful for you, concepts that you keep revisiting and/or reinventing that keep your playing and your lines cutting edge and fresh?

OR: One of my interests is improvising harmony-compositional improvisation. I try to incorporate my love of compositional and harmonic improvisation into my linear "changes" improvisation. When given a set of changes I like to explore different upper structure sounds over the given bass note, various modal voicings, and chord quality changes in order to personalize the progression, to give it my own interpretation and a slightly different character. Jumping between what is given by the composer and what is created by me is a balance which I am always working on in my improvising.

AAJ: What aspects of your own playing style would you point listeners to- How would you attempt describing your own playing style?

OR: This is always a difficult question to answer. I think and hope that my pianistic touch and sound is quite personal and warm, with a distinctive time feel, use of harmony and approach to voicing. My playing reflects a real mixture of gospel, folk, pop and jazz, and when I improvise, I don't think of it as being jazz necessarily, but rather a combination of what I like to hear, and what I like to play, which is all of the above. People say to me that they can hear many influences when they hear me play, and that it is unique in that respect. I try to combine a thematic and compositional approach to improvisation with a funkier more risk taking "on the edge" approach too when the moment calls for it.

AAJ: What aspects of your compositional style would you point listeners to? How would you attempt describing your own compositional style?

OR: I know what I want from my compositions- whether I achieve those goals is of course down to the listener to say. Lyrically speaking, I want to write music which communicates something powerful and personal and that can also be understood and felt in a universal way by the listener through identifying with the song's narrator. I want to create a space in time that is safe and soothing for people, where they can go and in those 4/5 minutes can consistently feel protected, understood and/or have some feeling or wish validated each time they come to it. Physical travel and emotional travel are strong themes in my music and the writing often explores people's capacity to change for the better and to move forward in their lives. I try to balance a relaxed and humorous conversational approach with a more descriptive prose style in an attempt to keep the writing interesting and vibrant. From a harmonic point of view, I'm a fan of rich harmony, and I try to take advantage of my studies and extensive listening when I come to my own compositions.

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