Nick Finzer’s Thoughtful ‘Hear and Now’ Also Honors Duke Ellington: Something Else! Interview

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Trombonist Nick Finzer continues building on his family legacy with the forthcoming Hear and Now, a project highlighted by his tribute to musical hero Duke Ellington. Finzer, the son of internationally known flautist Sherry Finzer, also discusses the impetus for this new studio project, his sweeping new tour and the importance of jazz education in this rangy talk with Preston Frazier …

PRESTON FRAZIER: Nick, since we last spoke you have been quite busy with touring and recording. Your upcoming release Hear and Now is due on February 17th. How does the new record differ from your prior release, The Chase?
NICK FINZER: I think that the music on this new record is a little less frenetic then some of the compositions from The Chase. Overall, the tunes are perhaps a bit more sophisticated, not in a more complex way, but in a more thoughtful way. I was coming to making this record with a lot of reflection on the times we live in, and a variety of current events. When I wrote a lot of the music, it was during a time in 2015 and early 2016 when I was traveling the most that I have yet, and I think that it was giving me a good amount of perspective to come to this music with.

Some of this music was written with the intention of being a kind of meditation for myself. The tune “New Beginnings” is a great example of this kind of meditative reflection. I was thinking a lot about trying to remember to close chapters in my life and move on into new opportunities when those present themselves: to not dwell too much on the past and try to keep moving forward. Pieces like “Love Wins” were reactions to events that happened, and I wanted to express how I felt in those moments.

This record also features a composition by one of my biggest influences, Duke Ellington. All of my records up until this point have focused solely on original music, but I wanted to present an arrangement of Duke’s beautiful song “Single Petal of a Rose.” Although I had heard the song many times, when I played with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra a few years back, we played a number of pieces from Ellington’s “Queen’s Suite,” which that tune is from. That encouraged me to go and check it out again. When Joe Temperly recently passed away, I revisited some of his solo bass clarinet renditions of this tune and was just blown away each and every time. Those versions inspired me to present my own take on the tune. So, I arranged it for two bass clarinets and three trombones along with the rhythm section, and I think it’s one of my favorite moments on this record.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Has your approach to writing and arranging changed?
NICK FINZER: Definitely. I think that every year – or maybe even less – I realize a few things things about my music after listening back to it. Maybe I unearth some tendencies of mine that I want to either avoid or enhance, or find similarities between compositions. I want to catch the spirit of specific moments in time with this album – specific moments that we were are living in now and have led to the situations that exist in our country. In terms of my writing for this project in particular, I think I’ve tried to make things a little bit more simple and direct. I want to connect to the emotional side of the songs more quickly. Sometimes I would write things just because I knew that we could execute them because of the great musicians in this band, but this time I wanted to focus on the emotional spirit of the pieces. The energy. I try to keep an evolutionary mindset with my music, and continue to change and refine my approach with each project.

PRESTON FRAZIER: You have been a band leader for quite some time. Has your approach to working with the players on Hear and Now changed from your earlier work?
NICK FINZER: I love to work with these musicians because I know that they’re going to make my music sound great. They are amazing musicians and they are so sensitive not only to each other, but to knowing the nuances of my music. When I write, I know exactly how each player is going to approach a certain stylistic thing in the music. I know how they’ll phrase, and how each players’ approach will fit within the realm of each composition. This familiarity allows me a greater sense of control, but at the same time a greater freedom to allow the musicians to insert themselves into my music. I think the biggest changes from previous work to now, is my letting go of expectations, and letting the musicians do their thing.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell us a little about the recording process for Hear and Now.
NICK FINZER: We recorded Hear and Now back in June of 2016 at Bunker Studios in Brooklyn. I like to move quickly with my projects, and we did this all in just one day – the same as with The Chase. I was very fortunate to have a great producer on this project, an amazing band leader himself: Ryan Truesdell. I’ve been playing some with Ryan’s band (the Grammy-winning Gil Evans Project) for the last few years and know what a great ear he has for production. He’s produced some of Maria Schneider’s work recently, and he was an amazing asset to have in the studio. Ryan’s suggestions really added depth and nuance to the performance and arrangements of these tunes. In the band, we have Lucas Pino on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Alex Wintz on guitar, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Dave Baron on bass and Jimmy Macbride on drums. Everything was recorded live, with the exception of “Single Petal of a Rose,” which has a few layers that we put all together in the post-production process.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Nick, the single “We, the People” is dynamic and powerful. What can you tell us about the track?
NICK FINZER: “We, the People” is intended to embody the power that we have as a group of people fighting for the things that we believe in. It’s like a wave of energy that goes in and out with the tide. For me, it’s a reminder that we need to take the time to thoughtfully consider our opinions, and to take the time to have thoughtful and meaningful discussions about those opinions with people. To stand up for the things that we believe to be true. I truly think that discourse is a very powerful tool for understanding and empathy. That is the power I want this composition to evoke.

PRESTON FRAZIER: It’s hard to pick a favorite song from your work, but right now which song from Hear and Now is yours – and why?
NICK FINZER: I keep coming back to this, but I keep thinking that my favorite piece on the whole album is “Single Petal of a Rose.” I just really enjoyed how the orchestration came together. Ryan Truesdell was a great help with that; he made some key suggestions that really helped me think outside the box with that arrangement. The original arrangement that I brought into the band sounded almost nothing like what we ended up recording. The original arrangement didn’t have all the multiple trombones and bass clarinets, but I’m really glad that we reworked it. Beyond that track, I also really enjoy the journey that is taken on “New Beginnings.” If you listen from start to finish, it kind of takes you on a path from calm meditation into this contemplation phase and then finishing with a strong reminder that we have to keep on moving ahead and creating the things in our life that we want to manifest. And interestingly I think that my other favorite tune is actually “Love Wins.” It was the least arranged piece on the album. I told the guys just to play whatever they heard. I lead the tune by just playing the melody, and they were just following me, playing whatever was natural to them. I enjoy it so much because it allowed the band to just react, to be in the moment. I think it captures a really honest expression of that composition and the emotions that go along with it.

PRESTON FRAZIER: I understand you have just started your U.S. tour. I’m looking forward to seeing you here in Atlanta. What can you share about the tour?
NICK FINZER: I’m about to embark on the biggest solo tour that I’ve attempted yet. I’m visiting not only jazz venues around the country, but also high schools and colleges along the way. I love to share the music and connect with students in what I hope is a meaningful way. The educational side is really important to me, because I know how important it was for me to see professional jazz musicians coming through Rochester, N.Y., where I grew up.

The tour is going to start where it all started for me in Rochester, at the Eastman School of Music, and I’m very excited to go back and connect with the current students there as I haven’t been back since I finished my degree in 2009. From there I’ll be touring the music all over western New York and then into Ohio and Michigan. Then I’ll fly down to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to host a special President’s Day workshop at University of Arkansas with my non-profit, the Institute for Creative Music. After that, I’ll connect with a few more schools in Oklahoma [Oklahoma State University and University of Oklahoma], and then a great jazz festival at Northern Arizona University where I’ll be the main guest artist at the festival which. I’m very excited about this festival. We will be premiering a brand new arrangement of the tune “Again and Again” off of Hear and Now that I wrote for their big band at NAU. And if that wasn’t enough, from there I’ll be heading to Seattle, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Myers, Florida before heading back to New York for the final CD release gig at Smalls Jazz Club [March 22nd; this show will be live streamed] here in the city.

I think that it is important to not only make records and put them out there, but to tour the music and have people hear it live. The live experience in jazz is so special. Every gig is a unique and special moment where the musicians are creating on the spot, interacting and conversing, making musical gestures, and creating beauty. With the state of the industry, it’s easy to just assume people will take the time to stream it or find it online, but it’s such an oversaturated market that I think it is really important to go out into the communities where people enjoy jazz – jazz clubs, universities, live music venues, performing arts centers – and play music for people. Because that’s why we get into playing music, to connect with people through our music. And as great as records are, nothing can beat feeling the vibrations of great music in the same room as you are.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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