By Dylan Welsh
Berklee instructor Jason Anick’s new record, Tipping Point, explores many new boundaries, both in terms of style and instrumentation. Anick’s contemporary take on jazz violin/mandolin is refreshing and really shows off the true potential of the instruments, and that they can be totally relevant in the world of modern jazz. I recently spoke with Anick about the new record, his upcoming gigs, and his current goals.
Berklee Groove: You mention branching out into lots of other genres on this record. Was that something you had always planned on doing at some point?
Jason Anick: That’s something that I always try to do. My background comes from, as a listener, loving all different kinds of music, from Gypsy Jazz like Grappelli and Django, to stuff like Brad Mehldau and Chris Potter, to straight ahead stuff like Charlie Parker. I feel like my statement is showing my voice within the diversity. The cohesion is there with the instrumentation and the overall vibe of the album, but the music itself sort of jumps over eras. I also wanted to show another side because my last album was sort of on the gypsy jazz side. I was slowly heading towards where I am now, I wasn’t just doing a straight gypsy jazz with my last project, but now I wanted to feature a different vibe with a different rhythm section. As far as the standards, I find that they’re good for relatively newer artists who are trying to get out there more. There aren’t a lot of violins that have recorded a lot of standards, so it’s not just like “Oh, another saxophone version of The Night has a Thousand Eyes.”
BG: You have two different bands for the record, one of the originals and another for the standards. How will this translate to the live shows?
JA: It’s only the piano player that will be switching, and that’s because I wanted to feature both of them. I’ve got one doing this kind of Oscar Peterson thing and the other one is a little more modern. For some of the CD release stuff that we’re doing we’re going to feature both, but I usually just do one, depending on who is available.
BG: Is there anything else particularly new or different about this record for you?
JA: This project really stretched me compositionally, to input the violin and the mandolin into a modern, contemporary setting where a lot of different styles are being brought in. All the originals are sort of trying to dive into that world, which is still pretty untapped for that instrumentation.
BG: How did you get started at Berklee?
JA: It was kind of a progression of getting to know the faculty. Right after I left Harts Conservatory I started touring with John Jorgenson, which was big. Like, one hundred plus dates a year. But when I was home, I wanted to make home base in Boston, because it was familiar and I already had some connections. So that gig was giving me credibility through touring, then when I was home I was gigging with multiple people and meeting faculty and other people at Berklee. And I put in effort to really showcase my teaching style, as well. Aside from playing I was also doing a lot of workshops. We’d get to a city and John would be teaching guitar and I would do a violin workshop. So I think it was the combination of that and just being out there, and also having diversity. I’ve been playing classical since I was six and also fiddle music. And I’ve been in rock bands and gypsy jazz groups and I think that they saw that as a strength.
BG: When did you start exploring jazz?
JA: I got into jazz in high school. I’ve been into the idea of improvisation and composing since very early on, and I never felt like I couldn’t do that. I think that came from the fiddle music and learning those songs by ear. The first jazz musician I fell in love with was Charlie Parker. I just loved his sound and I tried to play and phrase like him. I felt like there weren’t a lot of jazz violinists that were really nailing the changes because it’s such a difficult instrument. Not that I’m calling anybody out, it’s just that I felt like there was still room for people to play changes and phrase like him. Later on I actually met a lot more violinists out in the world and people who were doing it but at the time I didn’t hear a lot of people doing it. Grappelli, to me, wasn’t quite the same as the Charlie Parker bebop thing.
BG: How do you manage to balance all of your projects with your teaching schedule?
JA: Sometimes it can be tough. Mentally it’s tough, because you want to give a lot of attention to the teaching and the students while also having to work with long weekend tours and flying around. They’re sort of two different worlds too. There’s totally different things you have to think about. But I think it’s the perfect balance for me. I think it’s just a matter of loving it and wanting to make it happen. There are going to be ups and downs, times where it can be really tough and stressful but in the end, it’s all playing music.
BG: What’s next for you?
JA: Right now I’m working on crafting the shows and a lot of promotion, and booking more stuff. I’m trying to build up my profile with more and more press quotes and build it up so I can hopefully get a booking agent to work my different projects, because it gets very tricky to do it all yourself. I’ve booked larger tours myself that have went well, but it was a lot of work. It’s tricky when you want to go from being a sideman to a leader. I’ve probably done seven-hundred shows with John over the last six years and he took care of everything. As leader, you can reap more reward, and it’s more satisfying playing your own music, but it’s also a lot more work. So you have to really enjoy the music you’re creating.
BG: What are some of the other differences you’ve experienced going from a sideman to a leader?
JA: Well, you’re at the center of everything. How you craft the set, what your song choices are, and you’re the one that’s speaking to the audience. That’s a big difference. As a sideman you just have to play, and now people are judging me a lot more. There’s just more energy centered around you. As a leader, people are also a lot more in tune with what you are doing, which could be good or bad. And then there’s all the work that goes into it. There’s just a lot of practical elements that you let the leader handle when you’re the sideman.
BG: Do you enjoy one more than the other?
JA: I really enjoy both, actually. I want to keep doing the sideman gig, because I love playing with all the different people and all the different kinds of music. But the thing is, I do find it personally more rewarding being a leader.
Jason Anick plays at the Regattabar in Cambridge on Tuesday, February 25th. The show starts at 7:30 and tickets are $18, or $12 for students