Jason Discusses his New CD “United”, his Formative Years, Inner
Circle Music and More!
Lara Solnicki: Congratulations on the new album Jason. You and
the album’s co-leader, violinist Jason Anick have been making music together since
adolescence, and now you are teaching together at Berklee in Boston. That is
quite a journey. Did you guys always have a sense that your
paths would move somewhat in parallel? As teenagers did you
share the same goals and interests?
Jason Yeager: Thank you! Both Jason Anick and I are really proud of
the project, and excited that it's now out on Inner Circle Music. I can't
say I could have necessarily predicted that our paths would intertwine in quite
this way, but it is true that from the start we've had a great rapport as
musicians and friends. We first met in high school, at a jam session in Natick,
MA, and were both pretty green musically, just starting to absorb jazz language
and explore improvisation. We may have met at a couple more sessions after that
and played together informally, but the first real gig I remember is a few
years later, while we were each in college. Jason called me to play with
his group in Framingham, MA, and I just remember being astounded at how much he
had developed musically since we first met...he was doing things on violin I
really hadn't heard before. Shortly after we'd each graduated, he called me to
record on his album "Tipping Point," on several of
his truly incredible compositions--they're accessible melodically, but they
have these long, captivating forms and mysterious harmonic elements that really
take the listener on a journey. Even if the initial theme comes back at the
end, it always feels transformed, and as a listener/player I feel
Shortly after the "Tipping Point" sessions, I was hired to
teach piano at Berklee. Getting the job was unrelated to my friendship
with Jason, but
it certainly facilitated our making more music together, since I live in
New York and he was living in Boston. I think what unites us (hence, "United") is a desire to explore
various melodic, harmonic, and textural patterns in the music without losing
sight of telling a story, of being melodic. There's also a lot of mutual
admiration for each other's composing--we enjoy playing each other's tunes!
Most of all, perhaps, we share a love for the spontaneity and interaction that
comes with improvisation--some of my favorite moments on our recording are on
the duo tracks, "Stillness" and "All Blues," where we kept
things very open and conversational.
Lara: You define the album
as “jazz without borders”. You manage to sound really natural as you draw elements from different idioms,
including straight- ahead and post-bop jazz, the Beatles and world music.
Your chemistry is really apparent! What’s your explanation for
Jason: I think Jason Anick coined that term,
"jazz without borders." We're both interested in a lot of different
kinds of music, and as improvisers feel that nothing is preventing us from
engaging with other idioms creatively. For his part, just playing the violin
and mandolin--two instruments not often associated with jazz, certainly not
modern jazz--gives Jason a window into many other genres and musical
I spent a semester of college living in Argentina, studying
international relations at the time, but also taking some Argentine folk music
classes as well. I got really into that music, and was particularly fond of the
"chacarera," which is not just a rhythm but also a song form and
dance. On my tune "La Segunda," I play with the
chacarera groove in a darker and more complex harmonic context that you might
associate with jazz or neo-classical music, but melodically the song retains a
folk-like approachability. Jason Anick
did a great arrangement of George Harrison's "Something," which we have been
playing live for years. On the record we do it with Mike Connors and Greg Loughman, two stalwarts of the Boston scene who have been part of Jason's quartet for a long time.
Lara: Tell us some detailed info about the songs.
Jason: There are six originals and
four covers/arrangements. I wrote four tunes and Jason wrote two, while Jason
selected the cover tunes/arrangements. We wrote our originals independently,
but in the case of "Harlem Hoedown," I was writing specifically
with Jason in mind.
We had a duo concert in 2014 at the Berklee Performance Center and I wanted to
write something for that, something with kind of a bluegrass/roots vibe, and
"Harlem Hoedown" is what came out. The way we orchestrated it on the
recording, with Jerry Leake's incredible percussion,
it has a sort of West African feeling, but I think the melody still hints at
its bluegrass roots. In any case, that duo concert in 2014 went well and
prompted us to start thinking about doing an album together.
Jason Anick wrote "Well Red" in honor of Joshua
Redman, and specifically for this recording, with these musicians in mind. It's
actually now a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition!
"Sweet Pea" is my tribute to Billy Strayhorn, and I wrote it just
before the recording session. As soon as I wrote it I knew Jason's violin would sound beautiful
stating the theme, so we had to include it on the record. The other originals we
did--his "Bird's Eye View," my "La Segunda" and "Achi"--we had been playing
together for years and felt that we already had a strong connection to those
The covers were selected by Jason--two by the late Polish violinist
Zbigniew Seifert, one by Miles Davis, and one by George Harrison. Jason picked Seifert's
"Turbulent Plover" because he thought it'd make a nice vehicle for
special guest saxophonist George Garzone, and the results bear
that out! George is just amazing on that tune.
Lara: How did you get interested in music? Who are some important mentors?
Jason: I grew up in Framingham, MA,
about 20 miles west of Boston. My uncle sent me a keyboard when I was about
three or four--I had to sit in my high chair to reach it--and I would mess
around picking out little movie themes (with Dad's help!), or just improvising.
My family background is Jewish and Irish primarily, and my parents love telling
this embarrassing story where I said to them, maybe around age seven or so,
"Mom and Dad, check out my Irish music! Check out my Jewish music!"
And I would play these little made-up songs that to me, and to them I guess,
sounded like music from those traditions.
I formally started piano lessons at age 7, and quickly began coming
up with my own music. When I grew restless with strictly classical piano
lessons, my parents found Dan Loschen, an incredible teacher
and jazz/classical pianist. For the first time I was "allowed" to
improvise (although I had been doing it on my own for a long time), and was
introduced to recordings of Monk, Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans, and many others.
My next two important mentors were pianist Kyle Aho and bassist/educator Bob Sinicrope, the founder/director
of the jazz program at Milton Academy, where I went to high school. Then it was
off to a double degree program at Tufts University and New England Conservatory
(NEC), which allowed me to simultaneously pursue my academic interests
(international relations) and musical passion (jazz performance). That was a
hectic and challenging yet profoundly inspiring time! I studied primarily with Danilo Perez and Fred Hersch, also working with Frank Carlberg, Jerry Bergonzi, Ran Blake, Jerry Leake and others.
Lara: Who are the other musicians on the album?
Jason: Mike Connors(drums) and Greg Loughman (bass) are both very
creative musical interlocutors as well as rock-solid accompanists. They have
great time and groove and are also able to master complex music quickly.
They've been part of Jason Anick's Quartet for years, and I've played with them
in that band and in other settings. There was no question that they would be
integral parts of the record. We also really wanted to feature some of
our Berklee colleagues, who are all musicians we really admire. John Lockwood (bass) is one of the
top-call musicians in the Boston area, and his work with Jerry Leake (percussion) --a master
of West African and Indian classical rhythmic systems--on my compositions
"La Segunda" and "Harlem Hoedown" is exemplary. Jerry
Leake was also my professor at NEC, so we have known each other about ten years
or more. He's one of the most vibrant and creative improvisers and teachers I
Trumpeter Jason Palmer, who appears on “Well
Red” and “Harlem Hoedown,” is lynchpin of the Boston jazz scene and one of the
most original and compelling improvisers playing anywhere today. He's played in
bands led by Greg Osby, Mark Turner, and many others, and is also a fellow NEC
alum and colleague at Berklee. He's got several outstanding records under his
own name as well. He astounded us in the studio; take after take, he would
produce a completely new, exuberant, emotionally compelling solo on the
trumpet, really mining each tune for everything it could offer musically.
We also had two virtuosic powerhouse saxophone players join us on
one piece each: George Garzone, a legendary tenor
saxophonist and longtime Berklee professor who needs no introduction, and Clay Lyons, a young alto saxophonist
and Berklee alum. George was a teacher of mine at NEC too, and Clay has been a
friend ever since we collaborated on Jason Anick's prior record, "Tipping Point."
Lara: You mentioned that
the album was recorded at Berklee with a grant. How did this come about?
Jason: Thanks! We're really happy
with how it came out sounding. The grant came about through Berklee's Office of
Faculty Development, which offers a recording grant to faculty. If you're
awarded the grant, you get a certain amount of time in the college's recording
studios. The college also just recently built a new building with some
incredible studios. So Jason and I applied and were lucky enough to be provided
with about two days of studio time, which was enough for us to track the entire
record. Mark Wessel, an incredible engineer
and also a Music Production & Engineering professor at Berklee, recorded
the music. We later had it mixed and mastered by Dave Darlington at Bass Hit Studios.
Jason: After graduating college I recorded my first album, "Ruminations" and moved to New
York, almost simultaneously, and got connected to Greg Osby through our label-mate and
incredible vocalist/composer Aubrey Johnson. I actually recall
Aubrey introducing me to Greg on the street in Boston briefly in 2009 or 2010,
but the real introduction came later, towards the end of 2010, after I had just
finished recording Ruminations. Aubrey thought Greg would dig my music, and
agreed to pass along a track or two to him. We then spoke on the phone and he
invited me to join the label and release my first record. I’ve now released
three albums on Inner Circle Music: “Ruminations” (2011), “Affirmation”
(2014), and now “United.” I'm proud to be associated with this incredibly
talented roster of creative musicians that Greg’s put together! It’s inspiring
and humbling to be included in such a forward-thinking, diverse group of
Lara: Hi Sara, Welcome to spring summer 2016! How’s it
going for you so far− the heat?
The heat.. it’s been warm in New York. It’s also the end of the season.
In July we leave for Portugal and have a
series of concerts there. André and I are playing duo every week in
towns... small towns, and in Lisbon at the Hot Club for 3 nights with
Devin Gray, a drummer from New York. We will be exploring new and old
from [the 2014 album] “Primavera” and our new album, “All the Dreams”.
going to be a good opportunity to start working the duo because in the
always had a band playing with us, not really embracing the duo format.
Lara: Easier to travel that way, more
compact! Will you be performing with Greg Osby?
Sara: No but we will see him in Poland in
October. Greg is curating a festival there, the Sopot Jazz Festival. Some other
people from Inner Circle Music will be there- Emilie Weibel, João Barradas, I
think Logan Richardson among others. It’s going to be exciting.
Lara: Looks like you’ve been up to a lot of
variety in 2016! You had your debut with the Albany Symphony Orchestra. Let’s
hear about that!
Sara: I did- I was invited to sing a piece
by Derek Bermel “Mar de Setembro" set to poems by Portuguese poet Eugenio de Andrade. It was written for Luciana Souza, but for some reason she couldn’t make this gig, so I was very
glad to do it. It was very different—
Lara: Very different than jazz! The
Sara: Yes, and just to accept that you are
the soloist, and everyone will follow you... At first I was trying to be a
musician, to know what every part was doing.. and then I finally accepted: I’m the soloist. I should embrace my role
as the soloist.
Lara: With respect to your new project City
Fragments, how long has it been in the works?What is the goal of the
Initially I created it in Portugal, in 2013. Singing with other singers
has always been
one of my biggest aspirations. Basically, I invited some singers and
experimented, it was
very ambitious, 8 singers and a band. I learned about the challenges of
working with such large ensemble.... I decided to recreate the group
in New York and now I have just 3 singers- me, Sofia Rei and Aubrey
André Matos, guitar, Erik Friedlander, cello and Tyshawn Sorey, drums.
still a work in progress.
Lara: What are the latest developments between you and your duo with iconic pianist/composer Ran
Sara: We released “Kitano Noir” in 2015 and
we will start rehearsing in September and then have a few more gigs in
December. At some point you realize that it’s really difficult to have so many projects at the same time where you are
the leader...Ran has been really busy with his teaching at the New England
Conservatory and is performing a lot, so we just perform once/ twice a year.
Lara: How do you keep everything together on
top of being the mother of a 2 year old?
Sara: You become much more efficient with the
time that you have..
Lara: I do find that things often run
smoother when you work with musicians that you know. It seems like you work
with a lot of the same people. I’ve certainly met a lot of musicians on stage!
Sara: Yes, I think that it’s really important
to build your musical family. For now, I’ve been lucky to keep things
steady, to keep developing all of these projects over the years.
Lara: What's on the horizon with your quintet?
Sara: André and I decided to work on this duo
and make it happen, so we wrote a specific repertoire and made it a priority. Besides this, I sing Ran Blake, City
Fragments and I also sing with Mycale, John Zorn’s quartet... so these are the
things that have been keeping me busy.
Lara: Your new album “All the Dreams” will be released later in 2016. What is the theme behind the album essentially?
“All the Dreams” is a
continuation of “Primavera”. Andre and I have found a way that works for
us, to create music and develop it together. After that first step of
we kept working/ writing. This time there are more lyrics− there is more
embraced our language and also invited just two guests, PeteRende
and Billy Mintz. There are songs that are older and songs that are really
new which we haven’t performed live. Things always take a different shape when
you perform them in concert and start experimenting. We rehearse at home, but
it’s different. There are songs that we recorded in the studio, then rearranged
them and recorded a new version ..At some point we had a completely different song, using the studio
also as a tool for creation.
Lara: What is the theme of the album?
Sara: A line from a poem by the Portuguese
poet Fernando Pessoa “I have inside me all of the Dreams of the world”, that became “All the Dreams".
Lara: Do you have set repertoire for all of
your projects? Or is there much variety between performances?
Sara: You can say that. And then there’s a
gig or a tour with new music. You work as much as possible. There’s something
about New York.. you are always working on something...