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Take Five with Andy Clausen

Andy Clausen By

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Meet Andy Clausen

Andy Clausen is a New York-based trombonist, composer, and educator. A graduate of The Juilliard School, he currently serves as Artistic Director for Jazz at New York Youth Symphony. Clausen is also a founding member of The Westerlies, an award winning new music brass chamber ensemble. From Carnegie Hall to Coachella, The Westerlies navigate a wide array of venues with the precision of a string quartet, the audacity of a rock band, and the charm of a family sing-along, creating music that is "folk-like and composerly, lovely and intellectually rigorous"—NPR. Clausen has collaborated with a diverse range of artists including Wynton Marsalis, Benny Golson, Gerald Wilson, Common, Dave Douglas, Theo Bleckmann, John Zorn, American Brass Quintet, Fleet Foxes, Feist, and Gabriel Kahane, appearing at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Radio City Music Hall, The Hollywood Bowl, Red Rocks, The Kennedy Center, Newport Folk Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, Coachella, Pitchfork Music Festival, The Stone, Vancouver Jazz Festival, Umbria Jazz Festival, and Jazz A Vienne. An active composer for film, television, radio, and advertising, Clausen has been commissioned by Showtime, The New York Times, Bloomberg TV, Carnegie Corporation, The Whitney Museum, Freedom House, and NPR.

He will be conducting the New York Youth Symphony Jazz Band at Dizzy's Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Monday, March 9, 2020, featuring saxophonist Steve Wilson, celebrating the centennial of Charlie Parker.

Instrument:

Trombone.

Teachers and/or influences?

Conrad Herwig, Jason Moran, Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, Steve Turre, Scott Brown, and Cuong Vu.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

By early high school I knew music was IT. I couldn't imagine spending my life doing anything else.

Your sound and approach to music.

I've always gravitated towards music driven by a strong sense of melody and I think my approach to composition, improvisation, and bandleading reflects that interest. As a trombonist, I don't have the virtuosic technical abilities of a lot of other instruments, so I also place a lot of emphasis on sound quality, timbre, and feeling. Coincidentally, I think listeners relate to that stuff a lot more than super virtuosic, technical wizardry.

Your teaching approach

My goal as an educator is to empower and inspire students with the passion and curiosity to pour themselves into the music. That love and passion for the music is the most powerful force a student can possess, and will serve them much more in the long run than any specific lessons I can offer. That being said, I love sharing my passion for Jazz and Improvised music with students, discussing and dissecting why pieces work the way they do, understanding the historical, stylistic, cultural, and political intricacies of the repertoire we are studying

Your dream band

Cecile McLorin Salvant, Jason Moran, Bill Frisell, and Joey Baron.

Road story: Your best or worst experience

I had food poisoning when doing an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. That was both a high and low point! I had eaten a Quizno's steakhouse beef dip from a rest stop in NJ on the drive down the day before (Should have known better!) It hit me around midnight, and I was up all night in a single hotel room with my bandmates. At 10 am we had to get in the car to head to NPR headquarters so they tossed me in, about halfway there, I had to run out of the car into a gas station bathroom. I ran past the attendant (who was apparently waving his arms) and then got locked in the bathroom. The attendant had been trying to tell me the bathroom door was broken! 20 minutes later I was still stuck in there, and had left my phone in the car. The attendant finally had to bust open the door with a body slam, and I came out of the station and my bandmates were freaking out that we were gonna be late, but we made it, and you can see the evidence online. By some miracle, I made it through the 15-minute performance unscathed, but the Quiznos kept wreaking havoc all day. Lesson learned.

Favorite venue

So many of all shapes and sizes! In New York—Roulette, National Sawdust, Village Vanguard, Threes Brewing, The Owl Music Parlor. Outside of New York, The Royal Room (Seattle), Santa Fe Opera, Red Rocks.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

The new album from The Westerlies, Wherein Lies the Good. This band has been working and touring extensively for 8+ years now and this record most fully captures the range of what we do!

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I am very proud of the music we make with The Westerlies. There is something really magical about what is possible when going really deep into the music with the same folks for years. On tour, in rehearsal, in the studio. I think the sound we have cultivated is unique in the world, and the emotional responses we get from folks is profoundly moving and encouraging that we are on to something...

Did you know...

I wanted to be a chef until I was 15! Still love to cook.

The first jazz album I bought was:

J.J. Johnson: The Trombone Master

Music you are listening to now:

Rafiq Bhatia: Standards, Vol. 1 (Anti Records)

Desert Island picks:

Bill Frisell: Blues Dream (Nonesuch)
Duke Ellington: The Private Collection
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Jimmy Giuffre 3: Western Suite
Sam Amidon: All Is Well

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

The music is wildly vibrant, diverse and global, which I find tremendously exciting. The infrastructure to make a living playing this music is less healthy, I think. But the music itself gives me a lot of optimism. I think the world needs more of it.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

First and foremost, a dedication to the music itself. The music has to be great. Aside from that, I think there is a lot of work to be done on gender and racial equity in the Jazz world (at every level from musicians, bandleaders, critics, presenters, labels, radio, etc...) It will be better for the music itself to have more diverse voices contributing. But also, representation matters to inspire the next generation!

What is in the near future?

Lots of touring coming up with The Westerlies this spring and summer and some exciting concerts with New York Youth Symphony Jazz Band featuring Steve Wilson (March 9th) and Wycliffe Gordon (May 11th.) Beyond that, I have a few recordings coming out this year under my own name! A large ensemble piece called Austerity Measures as well as a new EP of chamber music called Shutter. And in the fall, The Westerlies & Theo Bleckmann will be releasing our album of protest music from a variety of traditions old and new.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

The performances don't scare me! If I have to remember of a bunch of names or people to thank, that gets a little scary...

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Perhaps this is narcissistic, but a song I wrote called "All To Ourselves" would be great for a funeral, and has a lot of personal meaning.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

Depends on the day!

By Day:

Music all day!

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Chef.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

Billy Strayhorn? He was a man of great intellect and varied interests and I think the conversation would be fascinating!

Tips for staying healthy on the road?

Drink more water than you think you need, and echinacea tea (at least) daily.

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