Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

104

Armen Donelian: Consummate Musician

R.J. DeLuke By

Sign in to view read count
Mommaas was also a student of Donelian's, at the Manhattan School, and the two have been close since, playing and recording together. Donelian has known the album's bassist, Dean Johnson,for decades, while young drummer Tyshawn Sorey rounds out the band. "I feel, compositionally, that the music on Leapfrog is an extension of the earlier quintet music. I sit back a little bit. I don't feature myself on the frontline as a pianist. The piano is there in the melody, but Mike and I double the melodic line in many places. Mark is playing more of a second melody and a harmonization role. That's the way I arranged the earlier albums, but with the trumpet on the lead line. I kind of had the guitar taking over the function of the trumpet."



He adds, "Of course, the role of the drummer was very important in the earlier albums, Bill Stewart being very important. In this one, Tyshawn is equally important ... They're playing is very different. They both have the capability to drive a band forcefully when needed, but also color the band with brush work and fine detail work that's very sensitive and almost compositional. I think of them as musicians who happen to play drums, rather than as drummers. [Sorey] is an incredible talent. He plays drums, piano, trombone. He composes. I love his high-power way of playing, yet very sensitive and dynamic. He can go from a hush to a roar. There are not many drummers that cover that same kind of dynamic range. Also stylistic range. He can play just about any style of music and sound great."

The music is excellent. Moreno's sound fits well with the ideas Donelian put to paper. Guitar, sax and piano superbly investigate the melodies and come up with intriguing statements that mark the album for repeated listens. Donelian knows the difference between improvisation and composition. The latter allows a musician to consider possibilities and combinations before committing to them. Musicians have long said leaving "mistakes" on live jazz records is the truest way to hear the music, but Donelian has fine-tuned his view of those instances. "You've got to live with your mistakes," he says of a performance or live recording, but "I've come now to a different realization of what mistakes are, or what they are not. I don't think of them as mistakes anymore, but really just interesting digressions from my musical intention. Thinking of them as mistakes adds a level of self-judgment to the music-making process that doesn't really help the performer to express himself or herself. So rather than thinking of them as mistakes, they're just little blips. Actually, Miles Davis and others have turned 'mistakes' into musical gems.

"A lot of thought went into the mixing," Donelian says. "It's an aspect of music production that's very often not talked about too much. Mostly it's about, 'Do we want the saxophone to be a little louder here? Or the guitar softer there?' I spent a lot of time with the mix on this because I wanted to get a sound that featured everyone and at the same time created a group sound where everyone was equal in a certain way."

Donelian seems to approach everything in such a thoughtful way. He enjoys investigating new areas. A graduate of Columbia University where he studied music history, theory, and composition, he went on to study more with pianist Richie Beirach, which immersed him more into improvisation and composition. He had been playing blues guitar, and some keyboard, in small group around New York City, but with Beirach, "I became more serious about the piano and decided I wanted to focus all my energy there. I put my guitars down and started focusing on the piano much more seriously than I had been in my college years."

In college, he listened to the music of Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. "I really loved the Miles band in the '60s. Those were my early modern jazz influences. That's when I met Richie, Bud Powell, Bill Evans also entered the picture. I also immersed myself in contemporary classical music in my 20s. I listened to Bartók, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, people like that. Because of the harmonic content of their music."

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Julian Priester: Reflections in Positivity Interview Julian Priester: Reflections in Positivity
by Paul Rauch
Published: December 8, 2017
Read Aaron Goldberg: Exploring the Now Interview Aaron Goldberg: Exploring the Now
by Luke Seabright
Published: November 24, 2017
Read Pat Metheny: Driving Forces Interview Pat Metheny: Driving Forces
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 10, 2017
Read Bill Anschell: Curiosity and Invention Interview Bill Anschell: Curiosity and Invention
by Paul Rauch
Published: November 9, 2017
Read Tomas Fujiwara: The More the Better Interview Tomas Fujiwara: The More the Better
by Troy Dostert
Published: November 6, 2017
Read "Jack Wilkins: Playing What He's Preaching" Interview Jack Wilkins: Playing What He's Preaching
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: December 29, 2016
Read "Rick Mandyck: The Return From Now" Interview Rick Mandyck: The Return From Now
by Paul Rauch
Published: February 3, 2017
Read "Piotr Turkiewicz: Putting Wroclaw On The Jazz Map" Interview Piotr Turkiewicz: Putting Wroclaw On The Jazz Map
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 18, 2017
Read "Dave Douglas and the Art of Festival Direction" Interview Dave Douglas and the Art of Festival Direction
by Libero Farnè
Published: March 18, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!