- Downtown Music Gallery
- I Am Entertainment — 4 out of 4 stars
- In A Blue Mood
- Inside World Music
- Jazz Consumer Guide
- Jazz Times
- Just Jazz
- MidWest Record
- Pasatiempo (in print only)
- Step Tempest
- @Critical Jazz
All About Jazz Italia (Italy) — 3.5 stars
Jazzwise Magazine (UK) — 3 out of (typically) 4 stars
- Interview with Independent Music Awards. April 2013
- Artist of the Month on Jazz Impressions, WICB 91.7FM Ithaca. November 2012
- Interview for Exploring the Metropolis. November 2012
- Cover story on Jeff in Times Ledger Entertainment section, Astoria Times. June 2011
- NYC Jazz Record recommended release for 2011 (scroll to pg 14)
- Mulberry Street named to Just Jazz “Best of 2011” list
- AllAboutJazz.com Mulberry Street featured on home page for July 2011. Also editorial comment.
- All About Jazz-New York (now NYC Jazz Record): Jeff featured in Listen Up! column December 2009.
- Featured on back cover of University of South Florida Magazine. July 2005
- WBGO 88.3FM
- WNTI 91.9FM
- WGXC 90.7FM
- WICB 91.7FM
National reviews (alphabetical order):
“The compositions on trombonist Jeff Fairbanks’ album Mulberry Street—which mix his 17-piece Project Hansori jazz orchestra with five traditional Asian instrumentalists—sound very fresh. “Hansori” is Korean for “one sound,” and Fairbanks’ ensemble does bring distinct parts together in an original way. The album’s title piece, “Mulberry Street,” is a four-part suite for big band plus Asian percussion, depicting what Fairbanks describes as “experiences playing in a Western brass band at Buddhist Chinese funerals in the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown.”
On “Mulberry Street, Part II,” the trombonist explains, “Four soprano saxes mimic Chinese bright oboe-like instruments called suona… This folk-style melody accompanied by the small gong could be a scene straight out of rural China centuries ago.” In the song “Han Oh Baek Nyeon/ 500 Years”—derived from “a very old and popular Korean folk song”—Fairbanks casts his muted trombone, so that it’s “imitating a Korean oboe-like instrument called the piri” amid a quartet of gayageum, Korean zithers. Though it’s unfathomable how a trombone, even muted, imitates an oboe, it works!
Hansori perform June 2 at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. A Mulberry Street release show is currently scheduled for June 30 at Swing 46, the Manhattan theater district supper club, where big bands play almost every night, and there’s dancing. But Hansori will definitely be a first for Swing 46.”
Emilie Pons, CityArts
“The multicultural roots of Jeff Fairbanks’ jazz project incorporates the elements of Korean, Chinese, and American Big Band styles. Moreover, Jeff was trained in classical music with experience in African-American gospel and Latin salsa genres, too. Though, the latter genres are not represented on this album. The striking four-part “Mulberry Street” medley of New York’s Chinatown region contains sub-titles of “Entrance and Funeral March,” “Scaring Away Evil Spirits with Joyful Sounds,” “Releasing Grief,” and “The Send-off.” Named for a street in Chinatown, the songs reflect the Buddhist and Western funerary musical styles all on a palette of big band and Asian tones. Each song is instrumental and reflects the mid-twentieth century Spaghetti Western and other American film soundtracks of the period. Interestingly, the album is rather cohesive and fluid in its musical approach and execution. There are ecstatic moments, as well as quieter jams with short interjections of trumpet, sax, or trombone. Notably, ‘hansori’ means ‘one sound’ in Korean. In closing, Mulberry Street can be summed up in one word: magnificent!”
Matthew Forss, Inside World Music
I Am Entertainment “Four stars” (top ranking)
“Anyone who says Jazz music is for elderly people clearly has not heard Jeff Fairbanks’ Project Hansori. Upon hearing the 17-piece Jazz orchestra of Jeff Fairbanks and this new sub-genre called Asian Jazz, I was instantly a fan. What an incredible ‘Mulberry Street’ is, and what an awesome display of creativity and musical genius.
As a fan of the big band music of the 30s & 40s, ‘Mulberry Street Part II” is my favorite because it’s so huge. This tune massages the mind and really gives the ears a real dose of delight. One listen and I bet you’ll be prepared to spend your money on it.
Another awesome, but tune is “San Ma Da” because of how brilliantly the orchestra fuses the trombone and other horns with the Asian stringed instrumentation. Its an awesome piece of music that oozes with class and modesty. You’ll surely enjoy this one if you have an affinity for great Jazz music.
With so many great songs to offer, I urge you to go buy this album, you won’t regret it.”
Senseitional, I Am Entertainment
“Trombonist and composer Jeff Fairbanks was inspired by the convergence of cultures in New York City, especially around Mulberry Street where Little Italy intersects with Chinatown.He notes that in the south end of this street, some “Chinese-run funeral parlors, while conducting Buddhist ceremonies, maintain the Western brass band tradition established by their previous Italian operators. As a player in the brass band, my interest was caught by this unique and unlikely blend of cultures.” It is this blending of Asian (Chinese and Korean) and Western musical traditions that is the heart of the Fairbanks’ Project Hansori, a big band that explores his efforts at a musical fusion. “Hansori” is Korean for “one sound,” and Fairbanks’ ensemble attempts to bring distinct parts together in an original way on an new BJU Records release Mulberry Street. With his band is a special guest, Fred Ho on baritone sax, but the players are unfamiliar to these ears.
The opening selection is one of two he hasn’t composed, San Ma Da, by Jae-Hoon Park, is a Korean church hymn about the fall harvest, and Fairbanks makes an impressive solo statement followed by Remy Le Bouef’s slippery soprano and Linda Oh’s impressive bass. Fairbanks’ sophisticated arrangements adds atmosphere and texture for the lively performance. Woodside Story opens with Chinese flavor in the reeds (flute and clarinet) along with Chinese percussion before becoming a spirited performance incorporating the Chinese musical figures within the swinging big band performance with John Yao buzzing on trombone and Michael Webster on tenor sax constructing a marvelous solo.
Hoping For Hope is based on a certain rhythmic pattern in Korean Samulnori (“four objects sound”) music with Fairbanks stating the theme first against Francesca Han’s piano effectively making use of repetition, with the scoring of mostly clarinets against the brass very appealing here and guitarist Sebastian Noelle effectively working off the percussive center of this number with the horns playing building into a rhythmic frenzy. Han Oh Baek Nyeon/ 500 Years is a quartet rendition of an old Korean folk song with Fairbanks trombone along with Rami Selo on gayageum, Heun Choi Fairbanks on cello and Yosun Yoo on percussion with the cello expressing a somber tone reinforced by Jeff Fairbanks trombone. Bi Bim Bop is built on the spoken rhythm of the title and a 12-tone row that is constantly twisted and recycled to considerable effect.
The core of this disc is the marvelous Mulberry Street Suite, which, as noted, was inspired by the brass bands at Chinese-run funeral parlors. At certain funerals, both Western and traditional Chinese bands perform “often playing songs against each other in a tradition of using music to scare away evil spirits.” The suite is Fairbanks attempt to create “an abstract impressionism of these experiences.” Part 1: Entrance and Funeral March. is solemnly played as Han’s piano rings the tempo of a brass band entering the home and playing a dirge with a brief soprano sax interlude with Jason Wiseman trumpet solo exploiting the middle range.
Part 11: Scaring Away Evil Spirits with Joyful Sounds, has a contrasting mood after the initial incorporation of Chinese folkloric sounds and percussion as well as scoring soprano saxophones to suggest the oboe-like suona. Fred Ho takes a short baritone sax solo at the beginning while Erica Van Kleist takes a lengthier solo interlude on alto sax that is rooted in the lower register of the instrument followed by mesmerizing interplay between the various band sections. Part III: Releasing Grief is a portrayal of moments in a Chinese funeral of releasing all their grief. Fred Ho enters unaccompanied before the full band comes in playing both Buddhist and Christian hymns with Ho taking a lengthy solo reaching deep down as well as adding squeaks and squalls set against Fairbanks somewhat dramatic scoring. “Part IV: The Send-off, with a trombone solo by Mark Miller at the beginning, evokes the part of a funeral where the casket is brought outside several bands play simultaneously. To achieve this effect the band is split into five separate ensembles near the end playing separate melodies. It serves as a dazzling coda, not simply to the suite, but the album.
The composition, Mulberry Street was commissioned by the BMI Foundation Charlie Parker Composition Prize with other grant support for the project. With Mulberry Street, the Jeff Fairbanks Hansori Project has produced a fresh and stellar big band recording that has brought together various musical traditions for a fresh and dazzling musical experience that is likely to be among this listener’s best of 2011. Highly recommended.”
Ron W., In A Blue Mood
“Trombone player, studied at University of South Florida, now based in New York. First album (only one of 4 side credits AMG lists looks right). Korean-themed big band project — presumably wife (and guest cellist) Heun Choi Fairbanks has something to do with the interest. Baritone saxophonist Fred Ho, whose Afro Asian Music Ensemble set the standard for this sort of thing, gets a “with special guest” credit on the front cover, but only appears on two tracks. There are spots where the Korean rhythms and tones emerge, but mostly a pretty solid big band record. B+(*)“
Tom Hull, Jazz Consumer Guide
“Multicultural composer-trombonist Jeff Fairbanks explores a fusion of Korean, Chinese and Italian musics on this daring big band outing. The centerpiece of the project is “Mulberry Street”, a four part suite commissioned by the BMI Foundation and inspired by that strip of real estate in lower Manhattan that connects Little Italy to Chinatown. Baritone sax ace Fred Ho is featured on two parts of this sprawling suite that marries traditional Chinese motifs with Western brass-band traditions while blending in free jazz expressions. Other hilights on this amitious project (produced by Fairbanks’ colleague and fellow big band leader Darcy James Argue) include “San Ma Da”, a breezy take on a Korean hymn that showcases Fairbank’s fluid lines and lyrical sensibilities on trombone; the dynamic and thematically shifting “Woodside Story”; and the dissonant twelve-tone piece “Bi Bim Bop,” which swings as it twists and recycles itself.”
Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times
“Mulberry Street (bjurecords): This big band concept album by trombonist-composer Jeff Fairbanks weaves Western and Asian musical threads into a bright and brilliant fabric, paying homage to that most multicultural of all cites, New York. Fairbanks’ writing is rich and layered, and his soloists — including guest baritone saxophonist Fred Ho — reflect the spirit of his work. Jazz needs more of this kind of music.”
Bob Bernotas, Just Jazz
“JEFF FAIRBANKS’ PROJECT HANSORI/Mulberry Street: This is one of those records that you’re so much better off listening to before you read all the program notes and hype. Funded by several arts council grants and fusing a bunch of musics that shouldn’t be residing next to each other—none of that comes across on the disc. What you hear is a solid, contemporary big band date that sounds like it’s played from the heart by a leader and crew that care. First class sitting down jazz all the way, listen first, read second. This is simply a dazzler throughout.”
Chris Spector, Midwest Record
Pasatiempo (in print only)
“New York’s Jeff Fairbanks is a recipient of the BMI Charlie Parker Award for composition and arrangement, and this album is excellent evidence of his abilities. There are 22 musicians here, including four trumpeters, five trombonists, and six saxophonists/clarinetists. That rich assembly dives into the Korean hymn “San Ma Da”, working in a big, mellow mix of horns, with solos by trombonist Fairbanks, soprano saxophonist Remy LeBeouf, and bassist Linda Oh. “Woodside Story”, inspired by a neighborhood in Queens, begins with spare, Chinese-flavor strings and light woodwinds, then gonglike sounds heralding a jazzy mix with John Yao on ‘bone. Fairbanks, pianist Francesca Han and guitarist Sebastian Noelle have the lead voices on “Hoping for Hope”. Another sprawling composition by the leader, it also features four Korean percussion instruments. On “Bi Bim Bop,” Han creates an ominous feeling with a “walking piano” on the low keys while trumpeter Jason Wiseman and other horn players make musical suggestions. What a great use of instrumental voices! Then comes the very interesting four-part title piece. The inimitable Fred Ho on baritone sax plays the two middle sections, titled “Scaring Away Evil Spirits with Joyful Sounds” and Releasing Grief”. This is a different sort of big band session: fusionistic, complex but accessible, and most enjoyable.”
Paul Weideman, Pasatiempo / Santa Fe New Mexican
“Trombonist/composer Jeff Fairbanks’ Project Hansori incorporates traditional Korean and Chinese folk melodies into contemporary jazz on its impressive debut recording. “Mulberry Street” (BJU Records) blends the talents of a 17-piece big band with traditional Korean instruments, special guest Fred Ho‘s mighty baritone saxophone and, one 1 track, Heun Choi Fairbanks on cello. The fusion works nicely right from the opening track “San Da Ma“, with its Korean Church hymn melody played in unison on Fairbank’s trombone and guest RaMi Seo on gayageum (Korean zither.) “Hoping for Hope” has a full “big band” sound and is based on rhythm pattern from Korean Samulnori music. Here, the splendid rhythm section of bassist Linda Oh and drummer Bryson Kern are joined by percussionist Yosun Yoo on several traditional percussion instruments. The multi-sectioned piece rises and falls atop the rhythm, the back-and-forth of the reeds and brass and the excellent solo work of Oh, pianist Francesca Han and guitarist Sebastian Noelle (a long-time member of Argue’s Secret Society as are reed player Erica von Kleist and trombonist Jennifer Wharton.)
The title track is a 4-part, 26-minute, suite that is a tone poem dedicated to the intersection of New York City’s “Little Italy: and the Chinatown district. “Entrance and Funeral March” opens the “suite” with a dirge (though the use of flute and clarinet lightens the mood a bit) before a brass band moves in (here, as in other sections of the “suite”, one hears the influence of both Charles Ives and Bob Brookmeyer). Part 2, “Scaring Evil Spirits Away with Joyful Sounds“, blends Ho’s majestic baritone with a chorus of 4 soprano saxophones at the onset before the band comes roaring in. The piece slows a bit for a soaring alto sax solo from von Kleist leading to a rousing climax with the saxophones and brass firing away (take that, evil spirits!) Ho leads the band in again on Part 3, “Releasing Grief“, a piece that uses Buddhist and Christian hymns played simultaneously (again, the Ives influence). Later in the song, Ho steps out for a fiery solo before the brass plays a funeral march beneath Noelle’s aggressive guitar solo. Part 4, “The Send-off“, is a wonderful collage of clashing yet sympathetic melodies and rhythms that serves to lay the piece to rest and put a wide smile on the face of the listener.
When I first encountered “Mulberry Street“, I was knocked out by its bold combinations of traditional sounds and contemporary jazz but it is so much more than that.The section writing is clean, clear and inventive, harmonies abound, the soloists first-rate, and the vision of the composer is fully realized. At a time when there are myriad large ensemble recordings, Jeff Fairbanks’ Project Hansori is one of the most impressive and satisfying. For more information, go to www.fairbanksmusic.com and follow the links.”
Richard B. Kamins, Step Tempest
Trombonist Jeff Fairbanks, with this impressive orchestra composed of twenty musicians of Western and Eastern origins, is trying to find a meeting point between sensitivities that are worlds apart. He does so with great arrangements, excellent musicians and effective compositions that are inspired by Asian folk melodies, while maintaining a harmonic structure derived from the language of modern Jazz.
What seemed impossible thirty years ago now materializes in front of us with excellent results, perhaps helped in this cross-pollination now that globalization is connecting the world beyond the individual identity. The influences merge and combine, as they should. Moreover, the evolution is always passed through these processes of fusion of different cultures and nothing really important has ever come from isolation.
Among the musicians involved, we note the bassist Linda Oh, the baritone saxophonist Fred Ho, the pianist Francesca Han, trumpeter Jason Wiseman and guitarist Sebastian Noelle. Apart from a couple of traditional Korean songs, all the compositions were written by Jeff Fairbanks, that he then arranged for the orchestra. He debuted them in New York at the Moldy Fig, a local venue that, in turn, is launching in the difficult world of Jazz clubs. Congratulations to both projects.
Maurizio Comandini, All About Jazz Italia
“East Asian music is among the fascinations of this US-based trombonist, big band composer, and arranger. Here he, subtly yet persuasively, draws from Korean/Chinese music for his contemporary jazz large ensemble writing.”
Independent Music Awards, asking Jeff about his IMA-nominated song Bi Bim Bop:
Home Base: New York City
Genre: On this project it’s Jazz. I also work often in Gospel, Banda, European Classical, and Korean traditional. As a freelance trombonist I’ve performed in many other genres as well.
Categories Entered: Song, Jazz.
Work Submitted: Tracks from my album Mulberry Street. The nominated track is “Bi Bim Bop”.
Artists Featured: The 17 members of Project Hansori, plus myself conducting. Some tracks on the album include additional guests and myself on trombone. Soloists on Bi Bim Bop: Francesca Han (piano), Jason Wiseman (trumpet)
Label: Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records
Who are your influences?: In random order and not all-inclusive: JJ Johnson, Kid Ory, Gil Evans, Duke Ellington, Kim Duk Soo, Thad Jones, Chuck Owen, Tom Brantley, Jim McNeely, Maria Schneider, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Pak Pomhun, Pat Metheny
Describe your nominated work: “Bi Bim Bop” is an atonal, twelve-tone work composed for 17-piece Jazz big band. Virtually all the material in it is extrapolated from a single tone row, constantly twisted and recycled; from the melodies to the backgrounds to the harmonies. The title refers to a popular Korean dish that, while having nothing to so with the song’s inspiration, provides a spoken rhythm that perfectly captures the quirky vibe of the piece. …This work is from my album Mulberry Street, which has an interesting back story focusing on multicultural funeral music in NYC Chinatown. Much of the album fuses East Asian elements into the big band, however “Bi Bim Bop” is the only track that does not. It’s also the only piece in the album with a swing feel.
Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording?: Not on “Bi Bim Bop”, but yes on much of the rest of the record. We used a host of Korean instruments: gayageum, janggu, jing, buk, kkwaenkkwari; and two Chinese gongs.
Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned?: On a different track from this album, we ran out of studio time when laying down the Korean percussion tracks, so I wound up playing the jing and buk on one song, sight-reading the parts I had written.
How did you raise the funds for this project? How long do you expect it will take to recoup your out-of-pocket recording expenses?: Most of the project was funded by two large grants, from New Music USA and the Aaron Copland Fund. Another chunk was from individual donations, and the final portion came from myself. My CD’s sell best at live gigs, so I can recoup the personal cost over time depending on how busy we are.
Why did you choose to submit this work to The 12th IMAs?: It looked like a good opportunity and I believed I had something relevant to offer to it.
What’s your definition of success and how will you know when you’ve achieved it?: Joy. I believe that being an artist (or human) should be a lifelong process of continual learning, challenge, growth, and evolution. Setting and meeting written, concrete goals are crucial to moving the process along. They should be pursued, celebrated, and updated, but they must never be the end of the process. There is no arrival or ending point. I must enjoy the process, wherever in it I may be. If I don’t, I won’t enjoy where I want to be, either.
How will you leverage your IMA honors to achieve your career goals?: I’m already using it to energize my fan base, and have inserted a blurb and the IMA logo on my site’s home page. It will stand out well on my bio and press kit, and should be a helpful selling point to prospective presenters.
Who’s sitting in your audience and what makes your fans unique?: Due to the variety of ethnic traditions I work in my audiences would make quite a diverse group if brought together in one place.
Who are your musical heroes & influences?: There are many but here are a couple. Duke Ellington was amazingly imaginative, creative, and original, besides his skill and craft. Kim Duk Soo took traditional elements and helped create, develop, and spread a new Korean genre (Samulnori) that, decades later, continues to grow in influence.
What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans?: Banda Sinaloense (Mexican brass-based genre), Pak Pomhun (Korean piri master)
How do you discover new music? Do you buy music or are you content with streaming?: I have the pleasure that in my work I’m often exposed to music/styles/instruments I haven’t heard before, both live or recorded, and as listener or collaborator. Curiosity is the key. To many people, “new music” might mean the latest offering by an artist or genre they already know. To me it could mean that or something from a tradition far removed from my previous experience. When my curiosity is piqued I want to dig deep until I discover what makes the new sound I heard interesting.
How will musicians make a living if fans continue to expect music to be free?: Do something no one else does. Offer an experience that must be seen live and also that recording or duplicating won’t do justice. …Learn the the language of business and speak it to prospective venues and presenters. When needed create your own opportunities. …Exposure is never payment for services. Publicity, marketing should cost money; gigs should not. Gigs should be a return on previous investment; a sale, not a purchase. …Prepare for a long fight to correct current attitudes (sometimes reinforced by other musicians’ actions) that music is a hobby rather than a profession.
What don’t fans/audiences understand about the music industry today?: Audiences are more understanding than we give them credit for. But here are a few ideas the industry hasn’t presented to them: Talent and recognition are not the same. …A vast amount of time, effort, and/or money is invested in developing professional level musical skills and obtaining the right equipment. …Music of substance relates to and can be enjoyed by anyone. …The “industry” as it’s commonly understood reflects a fraction of the music-making happening around the globe or even within the US. …A smaller number aren’t aware of the hardships painfully obvious to musicians today: the financial struggle, the exploitation we often face, the new business model of recorded music.
Finish this sentence: The music industry is…changing
What do you have in the works for the upcoming year?: Now composing a commission for the the US Air Force Premiere Jazz Band, the Airmen of Note, premiering Fall 2013 in Washington, DC. Attending the International Gugak Workshop in Korea in June, a two-week intensive where I’ll further study traditional Korean music. Attending and performing in an annual conference of the International Society for Improvising Musicians later in June in Roulette in Brooklyn; producing a special East-West fusion concert with my Project Hansori (Asian-Jazz big band) in December at Flushing Town Hall. Other performances with this band and with Street Beat (my multicultural brass band), and freelancing/collaborating as trombonist and piri (Korean shawm) player.
“First off, congrats on being awarded the 2012 Sammy Nestico national jazz award and the opportunity to guest conduct Mulberry Street with the Airmen of Note’s Jazz Heritage Series concerts in Washington, DC. Mulberry Street, which fuses traditional East Asian music with Jazz, seems to encapsulate who you are musically. You describe the title piece “Mulberry Street” as “experiences playing in a Western brass band at Buddhist Chinese funerals in the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown.” How did you become involved in playing Chinatown funerals?
A few years ago I was invited to join Red Mike’s Festival Band. This is a brass band started by Mike Acampora in 1929, now run by his widow, Louise Acampora. They’ve played Chinese funerals for decades, as well as Italian feasts. Long story short, the row of funeral homes on Mulberry Street used to be Italian-run when that area was part of Little Italy. As Chinatown expanded through the area, the parlors were eventually taken over by Chinese owners. Although the new owners brought in traditional Chinese bands, they simultaneously maintained the long-held ceremonial brass band tradition of the previous Italian owners. The result was and still is a multicultural gem. The New York Times just covered this I believe.
Over the years, you’ve culturally immersed yourself in many different musical traditions. Could you describe some of your early interests and experiences?
Aside from academic training in Western Classical and Jazz, I’ve been lucky to get a lot of practical experience in traditions I wasn’t exposed to at school. During my years of college at Tampa, I sang in a Gospel choir at my church and also played in many Salsa bands. I spent many hours hearing and making music in these styles, absorbing it all. So before even getting into Asian music I already had a hunger to branch out beyond the universe I knew in music school, even college.
What came first for you – trombone, jazz or something else?
I started piano lessons at I believe age 8, thanks to my grandmother’s insistence. Trombone started at age 11 with middle school band. I heard plenty of Jazz and Dixieland from my father’s music collection at home growing up, but didn’t get training in it until college.
When did you first come to hear traditional Chinese and Korean music? What about the music caught your attention?
I first heard Korean music when I was 21 while at University of South Florida. My wife (my friend at the time) was an exchange student from Ewha University in Seoul, and gave me a CD of samul nori percussion music by Kim Duk Soo, which amazed me. Although she was a strictly Western-trained cellist, she know about samul nori and thought I’d like it. My first exposure to traditional Chinese music was through the Red Mike band, after I came to New York. In both of these musics I get a raw, powerful expression of humanity. I love the bright tambres, the emotion, and the ‘between the notes’ nuances that, like Jazz, defies written notation.
You’re the creator of the 17-piece multicultural big band ensemble Project Hansori. The band boasts some of NYC’s top Jazz musicians and was featured in your Mulberry Street recording. What were your purposes and goals in creating Project Hansori?
I believed I had something new to offer by taking this East-West angle with the music. I have no interest in duplicating what’s already been done in either tradition. As a composer I had already moved in this East Asian direction, and I saw a great vehicle for this voice in the large jazz ensemble format.
You also recently created Street Beat, a 5-piece brass band that specializes in brass-based music of various ethnic traditions, including Shout (Gospel), Banda (Mexican), and Klezmer. Could you describe your latest Street Beat projects?
There is an amazing wealth of brass-based traditions around the world, developed as the Western European instruments spread to many different cultures. Street Beat is a vehicle for the few of these traditions I’ve had time to dig into (there are many more). For instance, I hope to make time to learn about Indian and West African traditions as well, both of which sound very unique and interesting. Aside from private gigs, we played at the 42nd All Nite Soul fest at St Peter’s Church on October 7, which I was excited about.
Who are your favorite collaborators? What have been some of your favorite musical experiences in NYC?
My recent time with Sonagi Project (Korean percussion group) was the highlight as far as collaborating as a guest. I also really enjoyed playing with Soh Daiko, a Taiko group, just a month ago here. With Project Hansori, even though I’m leading it, it always feels like 18 collaborators and is a musical high point.
How did you come to the decision to settle down in Queens? What is it about this borough that attracted you? What is the music community like there versus the rest of NYC?
I left Florida and came here for the career opportunities. My wife and I felt a connection to Queens and our first neighborhood of Flushing was a good location for us. Queens has an underdog feel versus other boroughs, and musicians here try to promote our borough’s musical status. So a win for the Queens community is a win for each individual. I like that it’s the most diverse, has the most new immigrants, and there’s a driving energy in that.
For your residency at Flushing Town Hall, you plan to do something completely new and outside of your comfort zone. Could you describe your project?
I committed to compose a piece using as my only tool the piri, a Korean wind instrument. I’ve always relied on a piano, which I’m sure affects the nature of what I write. So I thought if I use an Eastern instrument instead, my resulting piece will sound very different.
It seems that you’re already being absorbed into the Flushing Town Hall community. Could you describe your role in their Korean Culture Forum held last month?
I was invited as a panelist, and I talked about how and why I fuse Jazz with Korean music; and also of being a non-Korean pursuing a Korean art form, how that’s possible, and why I do it. Also, I was very excited about performing as a special guest with the Korean percussion group Sonagi Project at Flushing Town Hall on October 19th. It was a real collaboration where they put us in a room, introduced us, and let us organically put a musical program together from scratch in a couple hours. I loved it!
Are there any similarities or differences in composing or performing Jazz and the other musical traditions you’ve become familiar with?
On the surface, Korean music, for instance, and Jazz are so different that they’re incompatible in a serious context, barring a well thought-out, studied approach. I’ve had to deconstruct each tradition into small bits to see which ones can work together. But in Korean music, especially Pansori, the concept of Han, deep suffering from oppression, comes from the same spiritual place as the Blues concept in Jazz. They share a root, and if you listen past the surface you can hear it in each.
You’re extremely busy as a composer, trombonist, arranger and bandleader. How do you keep motivated?
It’s probably because I enjoy it so much. Especially when bringing in a new piece or new project and hearing the music for the first time, this keeps me going. Giving myself new challenges does, too.”
Interview conducted by Grace Chandarlapaty, Exploring the Metropolis
Times Ledger cover story in Entertainment section
“Asian folk music fused with modern jazz? You’ve got to hear it to believe it.
For much of his career, Queens trombonist/composer Jeff Fairbanks has sought to merge his passion for jazz and his fascination with traditional Asian music — and has successfully created his own unique fusion of cool, brassy big-band sounds, accented by compelling Chinese instrumentals.
On Thursday, the talented musician and his band — together called Jeff Fairbanks’ Project Hansori — will perform songs from their debut album, “Mulberry Street,” at LaGuardia PAC (Little Theater), in Long Island City.
Project Hansori (“one sound” in Korean) features a cast of 18 of New York’s top jazz musicians, including Fairbanks, the band leader.
“I treat it like a symphony orchestra. I compose the songs and most of the time I conduct,” Fairbanks says. “It’s a standard jazz big band with five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, bass guitar, and drums.”
Fairbanks says half of his musicians live in Queens — mostly Astoria.
Fred Ho, who “knows how to make fusion sound good,” is featured on the album.
Turning it up a notch, a visual arts component will be added to the concert at LaGuardia PAC.
Visual artist Jin Hwan Cho, a Sunnyside resident, will lead an exhibition of his works and those of five other Queens artists (Caroline M. Sun, Sook Hyang Baik, Youngsam Kim, Nancy Rakoczy, Jay Moorthy) in the theater lobby before the concert, and at intermission. Their exhibit, called “Resonance”, is tentatively scheduled to open at 6:30 p.m., before the 8 p.m. concert June 2.
“Mulberry Street” (which won an American Music Center recording grant) delivers a surprising and unlikely symphony of exotic Chinese and familiar Western instruments and jazz compositions that mesh together yet retain their unique, intrinsic components. The resulting potpourri of rhythmic patterns takes some getting used to, but ultimately, becomes an amazing experience — almost transcendental. There’s even a bit of Dixie thrown in for good measure.
What do you expect from a trombonist who’s performed and toured with the iconic big-band era Glen Miller Orchestra’s “ghost band,” and received his master’s degree in jazz composition? Asian-Jazz fusion is a difficult genre to play.
Fairbanks says he taught himself to write Asian traditional music through informal study. “I do all the orchestrations and compose mostly out of my head — that’s my main thing — being a jazz composer, then a trombonist.” He wrote seven of the nine songs in his album, which has a fast-motion street scene of Chinatown on the cover.
Interested in all that is Asian, the trombonist and his Korean wife, cellist Heun Choi Fairbanks, are very active in the Queens’ Korean musical community. Fairbanks joined the orchestra at a Korean church, New York Presbyterian Church in Long Island City, where he still attends. His wife teaches at the church and at times performs with his orchestra on the album. For the past few years, they’ve lived in Sunnyside with their two sons.
Even though the 31-year-old musician was born and raised in Florida, he’s very much a Queens guy. He enjoys eating chili at Aubergine’s on Skillman Avenue in Woodside, and buys cookies and coffee at the local bakery there. His earliest musical influence was his dad’s eclectic retro collection of cassettes; he says he couldn’t get into the music of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
The musician’s work tells a story with rich, colorful cadence. He drew his inspiration for the album’s centerpiece four-part suite, Mulberry Street (commissioned by the BMI Foundation Charlie Parker Composition Prize), while playing with a brass band at funeral parlors in Chinatown — on Mulberry Street. “I’ve done this for the past few years, three or four times a week — it’s my bread and butter,” he says.
Fairbanks started playing at these funeral parlors in 2008, “after the other trombone player left, he recommended me to the band. Here’s the thing… here, our band is just a brass band with six musicians. We play church hymns and stuff; sometimes they’ll play traditional Chinese Buddhist music against us, using all Chinese instruments. There’s a gong and even an accordion,” he says.
“It totally clashes, but that’s what they want — the chaos — because it’s supposed to draw away evil spirits and ease the path of the deceased into the afterlife.” The music is also meant to calm mourners.
In his complex piece from Mulberry Street, “Part II, Scaring Evil Spirits Away with Joyful Sounds,” Fairbanks’ haunting rendition recreates this theme in a Chinese folk-style song. There’s even a 500-year-old song that he interprets via fusion.
Fairbanks adds, “There was a bus crash in the Bronx that killed several people a couple months ago — a casino bus. Many were from Chinatown, and funerals were held there for some of the victims. I saw a big commotion on the street — local news covering it — I just played at one of those funerals.”
Another piece, titled Woodside Story, is inspired by the energy and diversity of Fairbanks’ old Woodside “hood” where he lived for there years.
Flushing Town Hall hasn’t been the same since Fairbanks’ band received a grant from the Queens Council on the Arts to perform there in 2007. He even served on their panel, and also won the Individual Artist Award, competing with other musicians and artists.
Achieving a cross-cultural popularity, Fairbanks is joining the ranks of the younger generation of Asian-Jazz fusion musicians.
“As a freelancer I play all over the place… at Swing 46 in the city, every Wednesday. It’s all swing music, big-band era stuff… it’s a jazz supper club on Restaurant Row on 46th Street.”
He also plays at the Carnegie Club on 57th during the Sinatra show every Saturday: “There’s a Sinatra impersonator who sings, tells jokes… It’s a cigar bar so it’s really smoky,” he says. “It’s pretty weird — to make a living you gotta do everything that comes your way.”
Fairbanks has been commissioned by the West Point Band’s Jazz Knights, to compose a new piece for their performance in the fall. They’re a professional jazz big band that serves the West Point Military Academy.
Another CD release concert will take place June 30, 7 p.m. at The Moldy Fig, 178 Stanton St., Manhattan, www.moldyfigjazzclub.com or 212-777-3727.
Tammy Scileppi, Times Ledger
All About Jazz-New York (now NYC Jazz Record): Jeff featured in Listen Up! column December 2009.
“Jeff Fairbanks recently completed a three-year residency in the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop, directed by Jim McNeely. He performs, composes and arranges as a freelancer and leads three ensembles of his own repertoire: the Jeff Fairbanks
Jazz Orchestra, the Bone Band and the Gospel Jazz Project. He earned a Master’s degree in Jazz Composition at the University of South Florida and a demonstrated talent as a composer has earned him the BMI Charlie Parker Award, the ASCAP Young Jazz
Composer Award and finalist status for the IAJE Gil Evans Fellowship. Most recently he was awarded a 2009 Individual Artist Grant from the Queens Council on the Arts. He was also awarded a grant from the American Music Center and recognition from the New
York Youth Symphony. Fairbanks is also very active as a trombonist and group leader. In 2006 he played a three-month tour with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, performing throughout the US and Japan. Other performing highlights include Wito Rodriguez Salsa Jazz, Salsa Picante, Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey Orchestras and the Sarasota Opera. He has toured in Europe, Asia, Latin America and throughout the US.
TEACHERS: Composition with Chuck Owen, Jim Lewis and, via the BMI workshop, Jim McNeely, Mike Holober and Mike Abene. Trombone studies with Tom Brantley and Norm Bolter.
INFLUENCES: JJ Johnson, Kid Ory, Slide Hampton, Buster Cooper, Chuck Owen, Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer, Thad Jones, Pat Metheny, Western Classical (especially Holst, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven) and, more recently, Asian folk music, especially Korean Samulnori percussion music.
CURRENT PROJECTS: This month I record my original Korean and Chinese folk-influenced music for my big band augmented with Asian traditional instruments. This will be my debut album and I’m very excited about it. I’ll be playing a gig before the
record date with all 21 musicians. Then in January I’ll start writing a new piece commissioned by the Hora Decima Brass ensemble.
BY DAY: Playing with my 18-month old son while his mom teaches cello lessons in the living room. I also transcribe and edit all kinds of music for clients to help make money.
I KNEW I WANTED TO BE A MUSICIAN WHEN… I picked trombone after I saw a guy playing one in front of a big band as a kid. I didn’t get really serious until college, though.
DREAM BAND: Many, but touring the world with Duke is one.
DID YOU KNOW? I pole vaulted in high school. I drew the cover art of
my middle school yearbook.”
Editor, All About Jazz-New York (now NYC Jazz Record)
AllAboutJazz.com Featured on home page in July. Also editorial comment.
“[Mulberry Street part II] has the wild exhilaration of a Tom Waits song and the experimental whimsy of Kamikaze Ground Crew. This is the kind of tune to get your Big Band Friday night started. Jazz from the Brooklyn jazz scene.”
“…a wonderful composer named Jeff Fairbanks…also a fine trombonist… has against all odds put together a large ensemble that plays so-called ‘jazz’ in meters like 5/8-5/8-6/8-5/8 while simultaneously combining Korean, Chinese and Italian band musics (think Nino Rota) complete with Asian instruments into a recognizably American big band idiom. And it SWINGS!!!”
Sam Burtis, trombonist
“His composition was so sophisticated and artful”.
Mike Wood, QueensBuzz.com (Nov 10, 2008)
“an ambitious suite that mixed traditional Chinese gongs and musical gestures with more jazz-like passages”.
Joe Phillips, Numinous (Jun 27, 2009)
“Jeff Fairbanks’ repertoire is a mix of modern jazz and Asian music”
“Jeff Fairbanks Wins Charlie Parker Composition Prize at BMI Jazz Showcase”
American Music Center, New Music Box (Jun 27, 2008)