Either/Orchestra Handles All Tough Turns of Jazz Road
“For me, and most of the guys in the band, we see the road as not a rigorous place, but as a wonderful place. It’s the place where we get to go out and play our music and have our lives be a little simpler for the period of time we’re out there. Because when we’re at home, everybody’s playing lots of different kinds of gigs. Almost all of them are music teachers or they have some other job during the week. For us to come together in a room to rehearse or play is a gig – it takes time to get our energy together. When you’re on the road, you’ve got your mind on one thing together. So the music just falls into place beautifully. It just takes care of itself. I feel like if I can get the band playing gigs, all the musical problems solve themselves. If we’re not playing gigs, if we’re just rehearsing or playing sporadically, then you have to really work to fix problems or keep moving things forward. So I love the road.”
Gershon grew up in Westport, CT, first playing violin and piano before switching to sax. “As a tenor player, I’ve listened far and wide, so it’s the whole mainstream of tenor playing, from Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins. That’s the core of tenor playing. Beyond that, I love people like Clifford Jordan, Booker Ervin, Charlie Rouse, Billy Harper, that second tier of players that were very much influenced by Coltrane’s explorations and dealing with Sonny Rollins as a colossus. What do you do? How do you make your own voice with these giants standing there? I find that a very interesting process to observe in those players”
He moved to Cambridge, MA, to attend Harvard in 1977. He attained a degree in philosophy and worked as DJ, jazz director and station manager of the college radio station WHRB, where he produced jazz shows. He soon co-founded an eclectic rock band, the Decoders, which began playing clubs around Boston and in New York, and he later played in the power soul/punk band the Sex Execs. He attended Berklee College for three semesters in 1984-85, on December 17, 1985, the Either/Orchestra played its first show at the Cambridge Public Library.
In 1987, Gershon founded Accurate Records to put out the first E/O album, Dial "E" for Either/Orchestra.. The label has been essential to getting the band’s music out to the public, Gershon says, but the label also recorded other blossoming musicians on the Boston scene.
“It’s worked in a lot of different ways. I didn’t intend to do it, but I wound up documenting several generations of the creative jazz scene in Boston, which really wasn’t being documented before that. The record business is really in New York. People would come through here and spend anywhere from 10 minutes to four years for college and maybe another four or five years, a significant part of their career, and things weren’t being documented well. And people like myself end up staying here for 30 years or more. I was putting out our own records, and people started saying ‘how do you do that?’ One thing led to another and without it being planned, I wound up documenting some pretty interesting moments in the music scene here. Mostly through the musician connection more than, ‘Let’s make a business out of this connection.’ Although along the way, we’ve had a few things that have sold really well and made it worthwhile to be doing it.”
As the band developed, Gershon took cues from Duke Ellington, Sun Ra and Gil Evans. “I would say those are the big guys for me. For writers, Tad Dameron was a great writer for medium ensembles. The Birth of the Cool is hugely influential on me, not to mention a million other people, just in terms of the way a group can sound in that mid-range size, with six horns. Mingus is another guy who wrote brilliantly for that in-between size, a stampede of horns. Those are the writers that really did it for me.”
Says Gershon, “I can listen to jazz quartets play, but I’m a jazz guy. To a lot of people who don’t have the patience to hear head-solo-solo-head all night, a large group through the arrangements and the operatic aspect of having so many different characters who play and the different kind of textures we can get, give a feeling to people who don’t have the tolerance for standard-format jazz.”
The band hasn’t always cruised along smoothly. There were rough spots.