Veteran trumpeter/composer Steve Kenny is one busy musician. He’s currently playing in The Illicit Sextet, The Steve Kenny Quartet, What Would Monk Do, and Steve Kenny’s Group 47, the last of which is celebrating the release of an album, Straight to Vinyl, at the Icehouse this evening. Besides Kenny, the group consists of four college aged musicians: Will Kjeer, piano; Thomas Strommen, sax; Adam Tucker, bass; and Alex Burgess, drums. This group of young lions exhibits the creativity and cohesion usually found in groups with much more experience.
I had a chance to talk with Steve about Group 47 and the All Originals Jazz Series, a ten-week series he is curating at Studio Z every Thursday during the summer. This post will cover Group 47, while our discussion about the Jazz Series will be posted later this week.
LE: You’ve become quite the busy person these days.
SK: That’s true. Maybe it’s a perfect storm or maybe it’s the way I like to operate. I’m thinking ahead to the things that will be happening in Jan and Feb right now. That’s way, when the dates roll around it’s easier to book people, a studio is already booked if I need it. I had it figured out in the 90s and now back to that thinking that way.
LE: Why such an approach?
SK: I like to play some pretty serious music in public at least one a week, and that takes lots of planning. I play trumpet, and for that particular instrument, people don’t call you. It might be different for a rhythm section player. People don’t call trumpet players for modern jazz gigs, so I figured out you have to be very creative. And now, with the club scene getting more challenging, it takes more self-promotion and effort to make sure there’s a show every week or every couple of weeks.
LE: How did Group 47 come about?
SK: It came out of the fact that for 5 or more years, I had the privilege of playing the early gig at the AQ. The group was known by a variety of names. The way things progressed; it started as a loose, jam session, and as years went by there was a tendency to push away from pure jam to incubating some kind of group. Then we found out the club was going to close.
At that point, it became: let’s see if we can bootstrap something that can exist outside of the club. Right around that time I met Will Kjeer on street. While I was warming up outside, and he walked up and introduced himself, claiming he was a pianist who could play jazz. I started asking what tunes do you know, to find out how successful it would be to bring him up. After talking, I said come on down. He came down, and played great. I asked him if he would come back, and every time he returned he was better. As he got his wherewithal, his true abilities came out – holy crap. After a year, he’s improved so much – it’s crazy. He plays as well as anybody in town and this is a piano town.
LE: How did you find the other players in the band?
SK: When playing free gigs, a lot of established players aren’t going to play. Many did come down, but I was looking to shift to a steady membership for the group. As I approached players who sat in every week for the next 6 months, the membership changed according to whoever was willing to play. It was happenstance. Good ones stayed, what we ended up with was the group. It’s a band that can play on the same bill with any band in town and I’m really proud of it. And they’re monster players, the likes of which people don’t even know yet.
LE: How did the concept of the album originate?
SK: With Will joining we started writing. Six months before club closed we changed the name of the group. Then we booked studio time, played the Dakota, a college concert and other venues. We got enough material in recording sessions for Straight to Vinyl.
Straight to Vinyl happened in bassist Adam Tucker’s studio, where they have a track record of doing vinyl. We decided to record in the round, originally to 2 inch analogue tape and then to vinyl. There is no actual editing, just selecting the order of songs. No editing of beginnings, ends, no pitch correction. Ignoring the CD format because it’s a dead format. Except for radio stations, many devices no longer have CD drives. We made sure that the release is available in every digital format, iTunes, Wav files, CD baby, MP3, etc. Scary digital precision is also available. And of course the vinyl version with nice artwork, real liner notes, all the touch feely things we like about vinyl.
Note: Steve Kenny’s Group 47 will be celebrating the release of Straight to Vinyl at the Icehouse in Minneapolis Monday evening, July 28 at 10pm. Copies of the album will be available for sale.
You can also hear the group as part of the All Originals Jazz Series at Studio Z on Thursday, August 21st at 8pm.