Photo: Rob Blackham
As pianist Gabriel Latchin sets out with his trio on a UK tour to mark the release of his second album The Moon and I (released 5 April ), Rachel Coombes caught up with him to talk about musical and familial influences in his latest work.
London Jazz News: Your music sits firmly within the classic jazz piano tradition, and your style reflects some of the great players of the 20th century. Among these, who would you count as your greatest musical influences?
Gabriel Latchin: I’ve thought often about this question – it’s the people I listen to the most and those I try to imitate. So, Barry Harris is very important to me, and Cedar Walton. I go through phases – Oscar Peterson was the first, but that was a while ago. I then had a Bill Evans phase, followed by a Herbie Hancock phase. So I suppose Bill, Herbie, Barry and Cedar are the main guys, although there’s obviously a lot of overlap between them.
LJN: Are you going through a particular ‘phase’ at the moment?
GL: Probably right now it’s Cedar Walton. But they’re all there in my work – they all have their turn. I should add Sonny Rollins to the list; he’s of equal importance to Barry in terms of music I’ve spent the most time with. I sometimes forget these phases, and my wife reminds me, “You used to talk about Bill Evans all the time” – she sort of acts like my memory. I can trace most melodies and phrases back to very specific people; you learn by working out what these musicians are doing, how it works and how it can be applied, so with every little thing that I know now, I can remember exactly where I got it from. It could just be one or two seconds-worth of music but the way you finally use it feels very profound, and is not something I can forget.
LJN: I was imagining a vast mental textbook of lots of phrases and patterns from which one picks and chooses, but I imagine it’s a more instinctive process than that?
GL: It’s both. Of course there is specific vocabulary within the jazz language. I remember having a lesson with Aaron Goldberg once, and he said something along the lines of: “You can play well and it can feel good, but if you’re not playing the right language then it just isn’t jazz.” It’s not as if you’re just playing someone else’s licks, it’s simply that that is the vocabulary. Funnily enough, there’s a great Charlie Parker lick that everyone plays, and I found that the earliest source of it was from Liszt’s Consolations, written almost 200 years ago – it’s exactly the same. That obviously happens a lot with Bach too: all these minor II-V-I progressions were all there in his music.
LJN: You’ve said that you measure yourself only against what you think you can do. This shows a certain humility, but also a belief in your musical instincts. When did that instinct kick in and guide you towards a career in jazz piano?
GL: It was very gradual: I’d already been playing for a while up in Scotland, and I applied to the Guildhall in London, slightly last minute. One of the tutors at the aural exam asked: “Why do you want to be a jazz musician?” I simply said: “I am a jazz musician”, and he laughed and left it at that. My path was a little unorthodox – I was studying economics and was tempted to stay in that field. At Edinburgh they wanted me to do a PhD, but I was already playing and getting involved in the music scene. In fact even at school I was in bands so I suppose it all started then – although of course I didn’t consider it could be a career at that point! But eventually I found I was playing all the time, and making some money, so I thought “maybe I’ll try this when I graduate…”. I was amazed at how easy it was to go from being an academic student to a musician, but I guess life in Edinburgh is a little bit easier. After a few years I moved down to study it more formally, and it went from there. I assume it’s the same for a lot of people in the arts – it just sort of happens, and we’re focused on the art rather than the career side of things.
LJN: As well as being taught by some of the best American jazz pianists around, you also had tuition from sax player Grant Stewart and guitarist Peter Bernstein. How did these non-pianists shape the way you understand music and perform it?
GL: Well, Grant Stewart definitely comes from the Sonny Rollins mould, who as I say, is a huge influence. One of the main topics I discussed with both Grant and Peter was the melodic material of the right hand. As pianists we always start with chords, and I’m trying to get away from that and think more about melody being the most important aspect. They also had very insightful things to say about comping, and I had great opportunities to perform with them.
LJN: You’ve collaborated with a host of great musicians including saxophonists Ronnie Cuber and Alex Garnett, vibes player Nat Steele and vocalist Salena Jones, as well as with larger ensembles. Could you pick out one or two that have been particularly formative for your solo career?
GL: The most high-profile gig I’ve done was at the Wigmore Hall in 2016 with Christian McBride and Renée Fleming (report and photos) – that was where the title of the album comes from [the ‘Moon and I’ is a lyric taken from the Hubbell and Golden standard Poor Butterfly, which was the first piece they performed together]. Otherwise, I feel I owe a lot to the singer Atila, who I work with often. A pianist needs those ‘employable’ skills – understanding the piano’s role in a band, knowing a lot of repertoire, taking care of intros and endings: the piano player is the bridge to the rest of the band and the rhythm section, which is an enjoyable responsibility. I’ve learnt this from working with him so much, and learning so many songs from him. It’s really helped to shape my whole musical output, in quite a straight-ahead ‘Sinatra’ way.
LJN: Your debut album, Introducing, came out in 2017 but was actually recorded in 2014. What’s changed in your musical world over the last five years?
GL: I think my music has changed slightly – the main thing I’d say is that I think it’s a lot better! Which I suppose I would say… but this time round I thought “Okay, I need to be a lot more prepared” for recording: I considered the arrangements more carefully, so we weren’t wasting any time in the studio. For the first album I had two and a half days of recording time, which just seems so excessive now. I was talking to the great piano player David Hazeltine in New York a few days ago; I’d heard a rumour that he recorded what I think was his latest album in two hours – I asked him about it and he said: “No, no. It was more like four.” And to be honest it wasn’t really that different for me with this album. I’d got the whole day timetabled – it’s such precious time and it was quite an expensive studio! Jazz has a reputation of being ‘made up’ or ‘in the moment’, and of course you need some of that to make it exciting. But much of it can be highly worked out before.
|The Gabriel Latchin Trio – Dario di Lecce, left, and Josh Morrison, right
Photo: Rob Blackham
LJN: You’re joined by Dario di Lecce and Josh Morrison for the new album. How long have you been working together as an ensemble?
GL: I’ve been playing with them for many years, especially Josh. I seem to be working with Dario all the time in other groups too (with Atila and Sara Dowling for example) – we have a great connection. We met at Ronnie’s, and I remember Josh saying: “Have you heard this guy, he’s just moved to town?” Straight away it was a really nice vibe. We did so many unadvertised gigs together – those are the ones when you really get to know somebody’s playing.
LJN: There are four of your own originals on the new album, each one inspired in some way by a member of your family, or, in the case of Peek a Bu, the jazz family around Art Blakey. Could you talk a bit more about these pieces?
GL: Obviously starting a family is a big thing. Being a musician is nice in the sense that I’m around all the time during the day. Often I’ll be playing or working on something and my two boys will be very present, and wanting to be involved somehow. I started working on the first track Arthur Go when my eldest son Arthur was just beginning to talk: he was just able to put two words together and talked about himself in the third person at this point. He came in the room, and I played the tune to him and asked what we should call it. And he said “Arthur go!” – so he named it. Although it’s funny because after he said that he quickly left the room, so he was actually just talking about himself leaving… But he’s so proud of the song now that he can read his name.
I wanted to end the album with something for my other son Oscar (whose nickname is Pippy). Like Arthur Go, it’s based on I Got Rhythm by Gershwin. Oscar wasn’t involved in naming it as he couldn’t talk yet but the name is a nod to the ‘delight’ theme in jazz titles (Our Delight, Tadd’s Delight, etc). After naming these songs after my kids, I think my wife thought “Well, hang on, I’ve been around for 15 years – haven’t you forgotten something?” Brigi, My Dear is probably one of the hardest pieces on the album – it’s in the key of E which is not a common jazz key. It’s the only one on the album that is an entirely original composition. Peek a Bu, which is dedicated to Art Blakey (who was also known as Bu), is simply a minor blues – the form and the shape is already there.
LJN: What inspired the choices behind the very varied covers that you’ve included in the release – from sunny Sinatra hits to the blues of In Love in Vain, to the bossa nova electricity of Só Danço Samba?
GL: They’re a combination of pieces I’ve been really inspired by over the last few years, and ones that I’ve been working on with the guys. Most importantly I had to think about the programming of the whole album, and had to ask myself “if it were a set, what do we need to balance? What’s the first thing you hear?” Again I tried to think about these details a lot more this time round. It’s good to have something very fast, to contrast with a ballad, and I wanted to have a Latin, groovy work. Só Danço Samba starts as a bossa but turns into more of a ’60s Blue Note boogaloo type vibe…
LJN: You’ve got a busy few months ahead touring the new album; are there any other collaborations or projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
GL: Yes, part of the reason I went to New York was to think about possibly recording something over there with some American guys. I spoke to a few people for some advice and to see who might be up for it. Going into it I thought it would be a piano trio, but maybe it’s time for a change – perhaps a two horn thing… So no definite plans yet but I am thinking ahead and hope to do something within the next 18 months. My plan is five albums before I’m 40 – that’s what I’m working towards. Otherwise, I’ve got these collaborations that I’m doing all the time; I’m working a lot with Sara Dowling, and I might be recording with Nat Steele again soon, for his MJQ project. (pp)
The album launch of the Gabriel Latchin Trio’s The Moon and I is at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London on 8 May 2019. Tickets here.
28 April – Herts Jazz, St Albans
3 May – South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell
4 May – The Bear Club, Luton
8 May – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London * ALBUM LAUNCH
28 May – Electric Theatre, Guildford (quintet performance **)
31 May – Newport Methodist Church, Isle of Wight
8 June – The Verdict, Brighton
13 June – All Saints Church, Hove
19 July – Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead
* with Steve Brown on drums.
** with Sam Braysher on saxophone, Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Marianne
Windham on bass.