New York Poet on a Tenor

Adam Larson CD

Warm, honey tones come dancing out of Adam Larson’s tenor sax as he plays the main melody line of “Out the Window.” He has an ease with the instrument and conveys his beliefs confidently through it, whether expressing himself lyrically or with perfect, punctuated syncopation.

The Adam Larson Quartet hums with cohesion and a genuine respect for the music.

 Why did you gravitate to sax?

My parents brought home all of the instruments from the local music shop and jokingly said, “You can play any of them except trombone or violin.” My father was a band director for years before entering into computer science in 1993. My mother has been a band director for almost 33 years now. Mom is a trumpeter and Dad is a drummer. I narrowed my choice down to trumpet, drums or saxophone. Being a 5th grader, I didn’t want to take advice from either of my parents, so I decided to try out the saxophone, which we conveniently had in the basement.  

How many do you own?

I own a soprano, alto, tenor and baritone.  

What was it like when you played Birdland the first time?

It was very special for me because it’s a place that has such a storied history in the genre. It was extra special to share that first experience with such an incredible cast of musicians, which included pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jimmy MacBride. These musicians, with the addition of guitarist Matthew Stevens, comprised the band that would go on to record my third album “Selective Amnesia.”  

Talk about your personnel and the strengths each one brings.

For my most recent recording “Second City”, the personnel is a perfect blend of NY musicians and Chicago musicians. Pianist Rob Clearfield is a great comper who can feed information to the rest of the band in a way that brings the music to new places, without being insistent on his own thing. Clark Sommers on bass is rock solid and always making musical decisions that support what is happening in the moment. Jimmy MacBride is exacting and someone I can always trust to play the music at the highest level; internalizing it from the first read-through.  

Why did you form the quartet?

I had a desire to play with musicians in both cities and have a core group that I could tour with in the Midwest, which is where I do the bulk of my touring throughout the year.  

How long to master the upper register of the sax cleanly?

I’m still working on it. Any success in the upper register I attribute 100% to saxophonist Ben Wendel. I took one lesson with him as a 19-year-old college student and he forever changed my ability to hear, play and execute in that register.

How do you hope audiences react to your music?

I hope audiences come to my show expecting to hear what they think is “jazz” and walk away enjoying whatever they hear. More often than not, my brand of “jazz” is not what the general public might have in mind.

My hope is that there’s something redeeming about the music they can relate to, enjoy and come back to experience another time.  

Where do you go in your head when you are composing?

I’m inspired by a lot of different things. Mainly, life and current events. Compositionally, I like to write things that are more through-composed [non-repetitive; different ideas in each movement or stanza], if possible. It’s something I’m trying to assess and tweak each time I write.  

Which icons of jazz inspire you the most?

Right now, I’m very much into Seamus Blake, Rich Perry, Gene Ammons, Wynton Marsalis’ records from when he was closer to my age, Will Vinson, etc. I’m of course inspired by the legends as well.  

Of your international touring, which performances were the most memorable?

I really enjoyed my time in Africa, especially Senegal. It was amazing to be in the birthplace of the rhythmic component of jazz. I also enjoyed my time in India, playing at a number of clubs/venues throughout the country.  

Were you surprised to be sent to tour Africa in 2015, and what were the highlights of that time?

Yes. The whole tour was one continuous highlight reel. Too many to recall here, but one specific memory is from the +233 jazz club in Accra, Ghana.  A local tenor player named Bernard Ayisa came out to hear the group and was already familiar with our music, presumably via the internet, and it was nice to find a common bond halfway across the world.  

Worldwide, would you say jazz is appreciated to the same degree?

That’s an interesting question. I feel that in Europe, people are generally much more blunt about whether or not they enjoyed what they heard. In Asia, audiences seem to be over-appreciative of the art form. In NYC, it can be hit or miss. People are conditioned to hearing amazing music all the time, so you can have great interaction sometimes — or not, depending on expectation, audience preference, etc.  

When was “Second City” released? What is it about?

September 29th. It’s about a fusing of a band that is comprised of two musicians from Chicago and two from New York.  

What’s new or different about this CD?

The band and the music. Seven new originals and one cover.  

Venue you have always wanted to play but have not yet?

Village Vanguard as a leader. Anything overseas as a leader.  

What is the gist of the “Jazz and Democracy” seminars?

That idea is not original to me. It was created by drummer Bryan Carter and I adapted it to fit the needs of a presentation for younger audiences. Bryan’s premise is to align legendary figures of the jazz world with members of the government; such as the president, first lady, Congress, etc. It’s a way to relate musical icons to members of the government that the students (from grades 4 – 8), would be familiar with from their social studies classes.  

Plans for the rest of 2017?

I’m about to embark on a heavily concentrated tour of the Midwest that will include master classes at high schools and colleges, as well as performances.  

For more information, visit

Adam Larson 2

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

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