Magnarelli, Lalama, Allen and Jenkins Coming to the Lost & Found, Albany January 16th

On Thursday, January 16, a septet will be playing the music of Herbie Hancock, Cedar Walton, Horace Silver, Gerry Mulligan and Dizzy Gillespie at the Lost and Found in Albany. This performance is the brainchild of drummer Joe Barna and valve trombonist Phil Allen. Both are very active on the Nippertown jazz scene, Joining them in their performance are local musicians Otto Gardner on bass, Marc Kleinhaut on guitar and young wunderkind Awan Jenkins on alto saxophone. Featured performers are Joe Magnarelli and Ralph Lalama, both hail from NYC and are members of the famed Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, but appear in this area often. I sat down with Phil Allen for a brief interview on the upcoming performance.

Rudy Lu: I know the local members of the band have played together before in numerous configurations; Joe and Ralph have played together for decades.  Have you played together as a horn section before?  If so, who has played with whom?

Phil Allen: We have never put this group of people together to perform. In fact, I’ve never really met Joe Magnarelli or Ralph Lalama. Having said that, the beauty of this music we call jazz is that people who have never met (or might not even speak the same language) can come together and create amazing music. I have listened to both Joe and Ralph in a number of different settings and have always been moved by their playing. They are both hard swingers. They both can play ballads beautifully and everything else in between. I feel the same about Awan, Mark, Otto and Joe. To answer the second part of your question, the common denominator is Joe Barna. In fact, this configuration was his idea. I trust that he based that on knowing all of our strengths (and weaknesses) in playing.

Describe the strengths of all musicians in the band in terms of tone, rhythm, pacing and timing.

I’m not sure that we have enough space here to do that.  😉

Each of these players has a “sound” that is unique to them. When I hear Joe Magnarelli, I know it’s him within just a few notes. His choice of notes and his sense of time (his rhythm) speaks very clearly. I feel the same way about Ralph Lalama, Mark Kleinhaut, and Otto Gardner. They each have their own “voice” and it comes through every time they play regardless of whom they are playing with. I could go on and on about Awan Jenkins. He plays WAY beyond his years. In a very short time, he has absorbed the language of this music, developed a great tone and swings like crazy. Joe Barna always performs at his best in any situation. He is on a continuing quest to master the art of jazz drumming. The number one thing with all of these gentlemen is that they listen; they blend, and they do their best to make the rest of the band sound good.

How did you pick the tunes for the show?

I started writing this book when I still lived in California and over the years I’ve added to it. To be honest, it is entirely made up of music I like by musicians I admire. (Yes that’s a bit selfish I know.) The songs that we will be performing are all by well-known jazz composers: Herbie Hancock, Cedar Walton, Horace Silver, Gerry Mulligan, and Dizzy Gillespie. The book was/is written with the intention that the members of the band can have fun and be creative on the music they know while at the same time giving the audience music that they are most likely familiar with. 

A septet from the perspective of sound is in between a quintet that has one brass player and one woodwind and a complete big band with multiple brass and multiple woodwinds. What are the differences and challenges of arranging for this line up versus a quintet and big band?

The septet format came out of listening to the Gerry Mulligan Sextet of the late ’50s. I just added a chordal instrument to the mix. In the case of a quintet (in my view), there are limitations as to what you can do harmonically (what notes of the chords you use in the horns.) With a big band that’s not a problem; you’ve got more than enough voices for any chord you want to write. Without getting into a discussion of music theory, having four voices to write forgives one the ability to get any kind of harmony to “sound”. It gives the opportunity to use more complex harmonies and “colors” in the arrangements. At the same time (and this is what drew me to the Mulligan Sextet) there is a “lightness” to this kind of instrumentation. We can get a big sound and at the same time be nimble, unlike a big band that can become a bit overbearing. This instrumentation makes it possible to be powerful without being loud.

A guitarist is being used instead of a pianist. How does this change how you would arrange the music?

For me, it doesn’t really change how I “hear” the role of the chordal or comping instrument. Both piano and guitar approach how they back a soloist (comp) the same way; “how do I voice the chords to help and complement the soloist?” That is an individual thing and depends on the knowledge and taste of the comping musician. In terms of melody, I feel the guitar can give a very distinctive sound to a melodic line (not that piano can’t) and there are places in this book that I have the horns playing chords behind the guitar; a device I should use more than I do. I also feel that the guitar can add to the “lightness” of the band. Where a pianist has 8 octaves and can use all 5 fingers of both hands, a guitar has 6 strings and one hand. 

I think this is going to be one of the better nights of this music we call jazz. Please join us.

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