Interview with Bobby Avey

Interview with Bobby Avey

Having won the Thelonious Monk Award in 2011, Bobby Avey has made certain his reputation in the Jazz World circuit.

His latest work is the first for an ensemble of 4 musicians in addition to himself, with whom he will be performing at Band on the Wall. His album “Authority Melts From Me” has enjoyed excellent reception, and the thought and passion that has gone into the project is clear in the music.

1. What first drew your attention to Haiti and Haitian culture? Was it the Voodoo music you became aware of first, or the historical events like the slave rebellion?

My introduction to Haiti was in 2009 when I visited a friend in the Dominican Republic who had joined the Peace Corps. I asked him questions about the numerous Haitian migrant workers I saw; he suggested I read Mountains Beyond Mountains, a book by Tracy Kidder profiling American doctor and medical anthropologist Paul Farmer. I highly recommend the book! In the eighties, Farmer travelled to Haiti for a year to work in public health clinics and was appalled by their general inaccessibility to the poor to such an extent that he resolved to build his own clinic that would treat anybody regardless of ability to pay. He has gone on to build many other hospitals as well as schools, houses, and water and sanitation facilities throughout the central plateau of Haiti.

Jazz has taught me to investigate, to dig deep into understanding where someone is coming from. If you listen to Oscar Peterson seriously, then you investigate Nat King Cole and so on. And so it was natural for me to trace outward from the story of Paul Farmer in Haiti to investigate Haitian history. My interest in Haitian Voodoo music came after reading about Haiti’s revolution and the role that the music played in the initial slave rebellion in 1791.

2. The music on “Authority Melts From Me” is based upon your transcriptions of Haitian drumming music, do you ever wish to incorporate the Haitian drumming to your music directly, or record with the ensembles you’ve met in a collaborative project?

The idea behind this project was to drink from the source and break down (to the best of my ability) a tradition that certainly lies outside of my experience in order to draw rhythmic inspiration to sculpt my own music. I wouldn’t rule out anything in my future, but to play with any of these particular ensembles would be a completely different project.

3. The musicians in your band have received great acclaim in their own right, and Ben Monder’s guitar work is praised heavily on this latest record. Is there something in particular you love about playing with these musicians?

For Authority Melts From Me, I chose to augment my trio with two additional musicians because I wanted various options for rhythmic layering. I chose Ben and Miguel in particular because of their contrasting styles and individuality. Being familiar with their own music, I knew I could set them up in positions to thrive.

4. You’ve been complemented in reviews for the dynamics of your piano playing, is your style inspired by any particular jazz pianist?

There have been a number of pianists (both jazz and classical) whose music has connected with me over the years and I am eternally grateful for the inspiration they’ve provided. However, I’ve made it a point over the last decade to develop my own style and approach; one of the most gratifying compliments I receive is when someone tells me that I don’t sound like anyone they’ve heard before.


Bobby Avey Group ft. Miguel Zenon & Ben Monder

Alice Zawadzki

09 December / 19:30 / More Info / Buy Tickets

Praised by the New Yorker as, “A young pianist of invention and refinement,” Bobby Avey has established himself as an emerging star in the jazz community. His band features Multiple Grammy Nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón and guitarist Ben Monder.

Avey’s latest release Authority Melts From Me draws inspiration from the Haitian slave rebellion of 1791 and more directly from the vodou drumming traditions of Port au Prince and Soukri. Avey used these rhythms and concepts to sculpt the bone structure for Authority Melts From Me. In addition to Avey, the band features the immense talents of Miguel Zenón – alto sax, Ben Monder – guitar; Michael Janisch – bass; and Jordan Perlson – drums.

Miguel Zenón represents a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered as one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American Folkloric Music and Jazz. He has worked with jazz luminaries such as The SFJAZZ Collective, Charlie Haden, The Mingus Big Band, Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanchez, Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner and Steve Coleman.

Ben Monder has performed with a variety of artists, including Jack McDuff, Marc Johnson, Lee Konitz, Paul Motian, George Garzone and Tim Berne. He has also appeared with the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, the Kenny Wheeler Large Ensemble, Guillermo Klein’s Los Guachos, and is a regular member of the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra.

“Zenón is superb in the quiet, voicelike overtures to his solo on the rhythm-bending, delicately impressionistic Kalfou; Avey unveils his subtlety with dynamics, patience and harmonic imagination on the unaccompanied Piano Interlude; and the climactic Louverture and Cost boil with complex polyrhythms of single-note sax hoots, metallic guitar sounds, and lashed percussion accents.” The Guardian

In addition to Authority Melts From Me, Avey will be performing original music from his critically acclaimed debut release as a leader A New Face.