On your November 19 blog entry, you mention the idea of "embracing your jazz roots" and the "enigma around being a jazz-classical/third-stream/chamber-jazz musician." Do you think this project effectively challenges that enigma and proves that the organic nature of music defies genres and territories?
I've never sought to intentionally challenge or defy any enigma, be it jazz, classical, or whatever it happens to be labeled. However, I acknowledge and agree that labels are needed in order to facilitate discussion. But at the end of the day music is music, and I don't feel a difference. In the words of the great Miles Davis, "Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is."
To more directly answer your question though, I acknowledge that this project will likely be perceived as chamber-jazz/classical-jazz/third stream. I hope that – if viewed with those glasses – it's seen as a continuation of the rich lineage of this tradition. George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" (1935) is a fine example of combining jazz and opera; Gil Evan's "Sketches of Spain" (1959–1960) combining jazz and classical instrumentation. While I haven't aimed at their scale with my 31 Chorales project, the intention is the same.
Just to build on that: as a young composer and musician, how have you grown outside of your comfort zone with respect to your jazz chops?
When I was a teenager I disliked most classical music, and in college I couldn't stand opera. I had this uninformed notion that jazz was free and classical was tight and rigid. Thankfully, after having a opportunity to hang with an amazing classical pianist for some time, I had my eyes opened up to classical's subtle art of interpretation, and all of those assumptions quickly disappeared. I've been listening to classical music heavily since then.
Performance-wise, it was around that time that I started practicing classical music on soprano sax, most memorably Kreutzer's violin studies and learning to circular breathe the eight-minute cello movement from Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time". I was also fortunate enough to briefly study with the legendary cellist Shauna Rolston, who instilled some big performance and interpretation concepts in me – and is a really fun and positive person to be around.
Since moving to New York eight years ago, I've focused more and more on composition and so my jazz improvisation approach has become far more compositional. So, opposed to thinking more about outlining chords as they pass by, I've become a more motific and melodic improviser. Sometimes I might focus in on what the bass player is doing and create a contrary line off of that. Bassist Dan Loomis and I connect really well over that.