[Photo by Jim Newberry]
BY ZIVIT SHLANK Trumpter and composer Nate Wooley has maintained a relatively humble profile on the scene while simultaneously creating a new harmonic language with his musical innovations. He’s played in a variety of settings: solo, duet, quartet and quintet. With each new context, Wooley strives to make us hear the trumpet in a whole new way and as such he has become one of the most mesmerizing figures on the ‘out’ jazz scene. His latest released, (Put Your) Hands Together, dropped last year and featured some of Brooklyn’s finest jazz and experimental players. Thanks once again to the wizardry of Ars Nova Workshop, Nate and his quintet will be making their Philadelphia debut tonight at 8pm (for FREE!!) at The Rotunda.
PHAWKER: Your music evokes the spirit of Albert Ayler, known for making us hear the saxophone in a whole new way. It’s also oddly full and melodic, like in the big band tradition. Bridging the two comes across as a tribute to your dad as well as to some pioneers of the avant-garde/free movement. Was that intentional?
NATE WOOLEY: That idea of a tribute or homage is a really tough one for me. On one level everything I do is a tribute to my Dad. He’s the one that got me interested in music and a lot of the things I strive for on a more abstract level come from seeing him play a lot when I was little and then working with him in a big band when I got older. As far as paying homage to anyone else, I’m just not interested. Not that I think that someone like Ayler or Bill Dixon or Sunny Murray doesn’t deserve a tribute, they most certainly do, but it’s just not in my nature. I guess I always thought that the greatest tribute you can pay a musician like that, pioneers if that works as a term, is to give credit where credit is due, but to keep your head down and do your own work. I can’t imagine that those guys would be more interested in me paying homage to them than me doing my own work. Maybe that’s naive, but I’ll stick to my optimism.
PHAWKER: Who were your earliest influences?
NATE WOOLEY: My dad played with a trumpet player named Chip Hinckley when I was little. He passed away in a freak car accident about the time that I was looking at joining band in grade school. There was something about his sound (he was a big Bunny Berigan fan, big buttery fat sound) that I remembered. I guess when we started looking at instruments, that made me gravitate to the trumpet, the memory of him. Later on, his widow actually gave me his horns and I played on his trumpet for a long time. That was very special to me. As for early influences, I kind of loved everyone for being different. I had periods of one over the other, but I could appreciate what they all had to offer. I think I was kind of a vacuum early on, so I viewed people like Miles and Woody Shaw and Donald Byrd and Bix Beiderbecke and Chuck Mangione as just being able to provide me with a lot of differing information on how to play trumpet, and I really didn’t care who it was. I just wanted all that they could give me as a player.
PHAWKER: You’re originally from a small town in Oregon. It’s a small, quiet, peaceful environment. You then moved to the largest metropolis in the country, aka New York City. I imagine that was a very exhilarating, emotionally profound experience. How has the transition influenced your music?
NATE WOOLEY: I don’t think it has had as huge an effect as one would guess based on the differences between the two areas. Clatskanie has 1500 to 2000 people depending on the mill and we know about New York, but really I don’t feel like there has been a huge effect from the energy differential of the two areas. Partially this is due to me living in Eugene, Oregon and then Denver, Colorado as I moved eastward, so I feel like I slowly ramped up in energy level at about the same time I was doing most of the primary creative work of developing a sound and technique and listening and a vocabulary. However, most of the cause stems from me being a fairly insular human being. I tend to have a stronger interior life than I do a social one, so when the energy of New York or the spaciousness of Clatskanie seems about to really affect me; I tend to be already detached. New York provides me with an amazing amount of inspiration. In that sense, I don’t know if it can be beat. Just looking at the sheer magnitude of information that you can access, if you want to be open to it, has to provide for some sort of growth, not just artistic, but personal. For me, to be surrounded by musicians and writers and artists and dancers that are consistently working on expanding their language makes it really difficult to just sit at home and be self-satisfied.
PHAWKER: Tell us more about your latest project, (Put Your) Hands Together. What facet of your journey are you trying to portray?
NATE: Now, that is the kind of tribute I believe in. Hands Together is a record that is dedicated to all the women that helped raise me: my mother, my wife, my grandmother and all of her sisters. I learned something from each of them, and wanted to make a record that would allow me to express that in a way that would be something more than slapping some titles or an inscription on the inside of the jacket saying thank you, without any actual musical reference to the way I feel about them. That’s where Hands Together, and ultimately the quintet, came from. I wanted something that could have traditional undertones if I wanted them, but with players that could move in and out of that comfortable “jazz” zone. I wanted to make a record that I could imagine them putting on at home and being able to enjoy and feel a connection to. As far as it’s relation to the other music you mentioned, this band makes me feel like I’ve completed a picture in a way. In a lot of ways I think the quintet has a different kind of honesty than the duo with Peter or the solo or tape work. It has that kind of feeling of someone who is happy to admit where they came from and how they grew up…. not only admit it, but also revel in it and understand its role in how it shaped who they are as a human being. This music is me talking about and being proud of who I am and how I grew up. I may have more of a connection now to some of the more abstract or aggressive forms that my music takes, but this project kind of fills out a timeline for me.
PHAWKER: What can we expect from the group’s Philadelphia debut?
NATE: The band is hitting very hard right now with all new music for the next record. There are elements of singable melody, swing and groove, but ultimately I think the band is in a place now where it’s very hard to describe where the music is going to go. We’ve had shows where soft delicate pieces have ended up in squalls and other, more raucous compositions that immediately went to near silence during the solo sections. It’s a hard thing to describe, but I feel like I’m lucky to have four of the best improvisers in New York at the top of their powers powering through some pretty dense compositions and making some real, true and interesting music out of them. I couldn’t ask for anything else.