Just released in January: original compositions by violinist Gabe Terracciano on a CD called “In Flight” from label Red Piano Records. These are six ear-pleasing tracks strong on melody, sweetness and snazz.
How did you come to start playing violin at such an early age?
My father is a piano player, and his grandfather played violin. For whatever reason we had my great-grandfather’s violin in my house growing up, and I found it and started playing around with it when I was around two years old. As you can guess, I quickly broke it, but my parents saw that as a sign that maybe violin was a good instrument for me to play. I started playing an appropriately sized violin when I was three, and I’ve never really stopped since!
What was the most useful – and the most irrelevant – lesson from your early music education?
One of the most useful lessons I ever learned was from my father – he played (and still plays) in a wedding/function band in Maine, and he taught me that in order to pursue a career in music, I needed to be well versed in playing many different styles and genres, and had to know a ton of tunes. Those are both pieces of advice I followed, and have been incredibly helpful in my carving out a career thus far. As for irrelevant lessons, there haven’t been many of them, but someone taught me how to circular breathe once…I can still do it but I’ve never really had to use it to play!
If you could spend time with one of the great string players of all time, who would it be and why?
I think it’s a tie between two people – Stuff Smith and Zbigniew Seifert. I wrote my master’s thesis on Stuff Smith, whom I consider to be one of the architects of bebop, and a truly individual voice on the violin. He approached playing the violin as though he was playing a horn, and therefore was able to turn the instrument into something it had never been before. Zbigniew Seifert brought jazz violin playing into the modern era, and is perhaps my greatest influence on the instrument. His ability to channel the tenacity of the post-Coltrane musical world into the violin is unmatched to this day, and continues to constantly inspire me.
How does improvising on violin differ from improvising on bass?
Well, the two instruments play very different roles within the band, of course…when I’m improvising on violin I’ll think more in the mindset of a lead player, and when I improvise on bass I’ll think like a bass player. I generally feel like I have a bit more freedom improvising on violin, since I can interact with the entire rhythm section and make a melodic statement on top of what the band is doing.
When I’m improvising on bass, I generally feel a bit more exposed since that’s when the band always seems to stop, and so I want to make absolutely sure that the tune and melody are clearly present.
How was your experience performing with different ensembles in Ghana and Costa Rica? How did each one allow you to grow as a musician?
When I lived in Ghana, I played with a number of different ensembles, including the Ghanaian National Symphony orchestra, a few jazz groups, and I would occasionally play as an extra drummer for some local dance groups. Working with the orchestra definitely gave me a greater appreciation as to the international reach of western classical music, and it was inspiring as to how an ensemble comprised of almost entirely Ghanaian musicians approached the works of the western masters.
I found that playing with the local groups playing Ghanaian music gave me a better feel for interlocking rhythms, and a sense of the importance of all parts of a machine working together to create something greater than itself, which is something that I have tried to strive for in the music that I play. As for Costa Rica, I toured there a couple summers ago with a jazz quintet made up of some NYU colleagues of mine. It was a great experience, and reminded me of how jazz really is a cosmopolitan art form with a worldwide reach and appeal.
Where do you go in your head when you compose, and do you start with a melody or a feeling or something else?
When it comes to compositions, I don’t really have any kind of a process. I keep a notebook of little snippets of ideas that I like, and if I’m messing around with them, sometimes they come together into larger tunes…that’s pretty much how the tune “In Flight” was put together. Other times, I’ll be thinking about something specific and try to play things that fit around what those images are. For example, “When I’m In Your Arms Once More” on the album was written for my girlfriend, Lola, when we were dating long distance between Boston and New York. She always liked the Miles quintet recording of “It Never Entered My Mind,” so I wrote something for her modeled on that.
Why did you decide on the Red Piano Records label?
I’ve known the man behind Red Piano Records, pianist Frank Carlberg, for quite a while. When I was a kid, I went to a summer camp in Maine called Maine Jazz Camp, which is run by his wife, singer Christine Correa. Frank was also a teacher there, and I learned a lot from him, whether it was working with him in ensembles or simply watching him play in faculty concerts. I then had the opportunity to study privately with him at the New England Conservatory, and had a great experience as well. He’s someone I’ve known and trusted for a long time, and when I found out that he ran a label, it seemed like a no-brainer to contact him about releasing the record!
What do you love about working with your personnel and what are their talents on their respective instruments?
Everyone on the record is one of the best players of their instrument that I know. They were friendly, professional, ridiculously talented, and willing to learn my music – which is always a huge plus! Plus there were personal connections – Dave Pietro, Adam Rogers and Mike Rodriguez were all teachers of mine at NYU during my graduate studies, and I’ve known Matt Pavolka and Mark Ferber since I was thirteen (I studied with the two of them during summers at Maine Jazz Camp).
Each musician was able to lend their individual talents to create a cohesive final product, and I couldn’t be happier with it.
Talk about what the title “In Flight” means to you.
It’s about taking off and leaving my comfort zone for the first time amid the thrill of finally putting together an album of music to send out into the world!
This has been a dream of mine for a very long time, definitely since I was a teenager. I can’t believe that it’s actually happening.
What track did the band seem to enjoy the most?
“Alfie’s Lullaby” and “Pundit” – two ensemble-heavy tunes with lots of opportunities for improvising and interplay. Everyone did an excellent job bringing them to life.
What track was the biggest challenge and why?
The title track “In Flight” without question. Getting the different sections to transition smoothly between rubato and groove and getting a clave rhythm in 15/8 steady, not to mention switching between different meters! There’s also a lot more written in each part, and so that involved extra rehearsing both before and the day of recording.
What do you look most forward to for this year?
I’m looking forward to playing more of my own music, and to playing and traveling more with other groups I play with, such as the Turtle Island String Quartet, the Avalon Jazz Band, the Harmolodic String Band, and the Hot Toddies.
For more information, visit www.gabeterracciano.com.