Jazz as a way to work through your issues has produced creative results for trombonist/composer Nick Rosario. He just released “The Uncertain Suite” which is a musical summary of his very personal sense of self-doubt followed finally by acceptance and relief. Stay with it for full effect as this all lands on the upbeat.
Jumpy yet full of sweet melodic phrases is “The Itch” which describes the unrest of the psyche and the lack of a psychological home base. Slower and much more introspective, “Woke Atlas” is tinged with melancholy written precisely for trombone. “Eggshells” is tentative and dicey, opening with a percussion solo that becomes an elongated drum roll until handing off to piano and a conversation between the horns. The last track “Room of Mirrors” dances around the bebop realm and sports several finales including a primal scream from Rosario.
Is “The Uncertain Suite” a play on “uncertainty”?
Yes. Specifically, the Uncertainty Principle, which is exemplified by the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. The idea of putting a cat in a box and being uncertain if said cat is alive or dead until you open the box is a great metaphor for exploring mental health problems. If you sense something is wrong with yourself but you don’t know what it is, it can be very frightening. The first step to fixing your problems is figuring out what the problem is. A lot of the times people are unwilling to open the box and that uncertainty stays there.
Was this album cathartic in expressing your internal experiences?
This album was originally going to be an expression of my personal struggles with anxiety and depression. In the process of writing the music, I found myself relieved to put it out there. It was a very positive experience.
Each piece describes the introspective journey I took when I became aware of my anxiety and depression. “The Itch” is about what people think of me and the uncertainty of my future. “Woke Atlas” is the weight of self-pity and hopelessness. “Eggshells” is my unwillingness to get help and push away those around me until I feel completely isolated. And “Room of Mirrors” is confronting myself and my insecurities, and that there is a whole big beautiful world out there waiting for me.
What was the defining moment in deciding to create music together as an ensemble?
We all met through our studies at New England Conservatory’s jazz department. I am very close friends with everyone in the band and have developed great chemistry with them over the last two years. Picking them to play on this CD was an easy decision. In fact, I composed it with these specific players in mind.
Lots of room for each of you to solo in these tracks. Is the small ensemble dynamic conducive to letting each person shine or are you all just really good at sharing?
I love the styles of each player in the band, which is part of the reason why I asked them to play my music. Everyone is a great communicator, really listens to the person soloing and tries to enhance their performance.
As far as sharing the spotlight, I like to separate my composer personality from my soloist personality. The soloist side of me wants to solo on every track, but the composer side wants to prevent the listener from thinking the album is a showcase of just one person’s playing ability. I wanted to feature everyone in the band and give them enough freedom to interpret the music in their own way.
Which was the most fun track to record? Which was the hardest?
The most fun track to record was easily “Room of Mirrors” not only because I scream at the end (there needs to be more screaming in jazz) but also because it is so wacky. It was so much fun to interact with Mike, the tenor player, in our simultaneous improvisation.
The hardest piece to record was “Eggshells.” Meters are changing constantly and there’s purposely no solid sense of resolution so we had a couple throwaway takes from people getting lost. Personally, it is also a physical pain on my chops.
How would you compare this new CD with the recent one “The Out Crowd”?
I have mixed feelings about The Out Crowd now that some time has passed since its release. First of all, my playing and composing have greatly improved since then. Secondly, it was more of a vanity project. It was a personal experiment to see what it took to record and release a project publicly and I learned a lot from it. I’m still proud of it, though.
“The Uncertain Suite” is more serious and has an overarching idea that links the pieces together so I see it as a more complete project.
How much of a backlog of compositions do you have that will ultimately go into a new project?
I only started composing in 2016, which was my last year of undergrad at CSU East Bay. There are a lot of compositions that will likely go unperformed because they do not quite meet my standards, but I occasionally go back to them with a better sense of competence.
I am currently working on the last piece for the next recording project which will be a collection of pieces for sextet that are inspired by Surrealism. The Charles Mingus sextet pieces are a huge influence.
What’s the most enjoyable part of playing jazz on trombone?
When I was 10, I went to my sister’s middle school choir concert which featured the jazz band and I instantly fell in love with the music. I actually wanted to play drums but my parents disapproved of the potential loud noise so I tried some brass instruments and landed on trombone because it weirdly felt the most comfortable.
Artistically, I love how there are no widely accepted expectations for a jazz trombone soloist like the way saxophonists are taught to copy Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. I also use this underestimation as motivation to really work with the awkwardness of the slide. Great and unique art is often created because of its perceived limitations. What’s interesting is how every trombone player deals with those limitations in their own way and creates a personal style out of it.
Where was release day and how did it go?
Release date was October 15th and it went relatively well. I uploaded the music video for “The Itch” and its related interview with a professional counselor a few days later on YouTube. The response I’ve gotten from those who have consumed the content has been very positive. We are still working on releasing videos every week.
What venues in Boston do you like most?
Scullers is my personal favorite; it reminds me of a place I used to go to when I lived in Oakland called Yoshi’s. Both have nice seats, a nice stage, and atmospheric lighting that makes it feel like a legitimate concert hall without losing the sense of intimacy that’s great for a live jazz show. Wally’s Cafe is the classic dive you go to to jam and hang out with the Boston jazz community, plus a great venue to hear Jason Palmer on a Saturday night. There’s also The Lilypad in Cambridge which is great because it’s so open to every type of music you can think of.
Are you interested in playing internationally?
I would love to play anywhere in Europe and Japan. I think they would appreciate the different directions my music goes.
Some people call jazz their lifesaver. Do you agree?
What I love about jazz is the constant personal expression and the collaboration with other people. It’s a very powerful experience listening to a group of musicians playing for years bounce off each other as if they are of one mind. It is also amazing when completely different musical personalities rub against each other but still manage to maintain a sense of unity.
To me, jazz is a great adventure.
What is your dream team of all time?
I would love to collaborate with Christian Sands. I love how he composes and his playing is incredible.
Constructing an all-time dream band I would choose: Charles Mingus, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Jackie McLean, and Roy Haynes. I don’t know if any of them would get along but it would create a very interesting session for sure.
What do audiences most want to know about your music?
A lot of people ask me how I came up with the concepts for my pieces. In “The Out Crowd” the piece “RDJ” is based off the rhythm of the name Robert Downey Jr. which I was inspired to write after watching an interview between Thomas Middleditch and Patrick Stewart in which they talk about good sounding names. Stories like that make people curious.
A lot of artists hate the promotion end of the business. Do you find marketing to be a bear or do you get some help and support with that?
Self-marketing makes me feel gross, but it is necessary nowadays with labels having much less power and the rise of social media. I try to promote shows and projects with a dry sense of humor and self-awareness giving it a personal touch and making an otherwise troublesome practice fun and authentic.
With “The Uncertain Suite” my promotion style became more serious to match the heavy subject matter of the pieces and that’s been more of a challenge.
Best advice you ever received relative to music?
In my freshman year of college I rejected a compliment from an upperclassman because I felt it was not a great performance (at the time I did not like any of my performances). He then asked me why I felt that way and we talked about it for a while until I felt better. He was just about to leave the room when he looked back at me and said, “Oh, and next time someone gives you a compliment, just say thank you!” Then he slammed the door.
The shock of the door slamming and the realization that I was being too insecure really affected me. I tell that story to younger musicians who are going through the same thing.
For more information, visit www.nickrosario.bandcamp.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Nick Rosario.
© Debbie Burke 2019