A FEW MINUTES WITH… Dylan Canterbury, and a review of his new disc ‘Going Places’
Ahhh, they grow up so fast. It seems like only yesterday that trumpeter Dylan Canterbury was one of two surprise guests at horn monster Jon Faddis’ Saturday afternoon set at “Jazz at the Lake.” Mind you, it may SEEM like yesterday, but that actually happened in 2006 – and Canterbury has racked up a serious amount of achievements since then: He’s played with Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and the Smoke Big Band, as well as with a plethora of Greater Nippertown jazz artists; he’s got over 20 published transcriptions of works by some of jazz’ most important composers; and he’s now the jazz ensemble director at SUNY Schenectady following the retirement of longtime mainstay (and renowned Porsche enthusiast) Bill Meckley.
But you know what? None of that means anything to me. Well, it means a lot, that’s for sure, but nearly seven weeks of COVID House Arrest has got me focused on this moment, when Canterbury’s self-released, crowd-funded disc Going Places is one of the most vibrant discs that has crossed my desk this year. Having known Dylan for some years, I expected his debut as a leader to be a quality date; what I got to go with that quality was a blinding set of originals that can stand up against almost any national release on any established label.
Start with the front line: Trumpet, reeds… and vibes! It’s kinda-sorta Old School, but not when sax fiend Brian Patneaude and mallet man Matt Hoffmann take on Canterbury’s dynamic compositions, all of them arranged to showcase his partners’ individual talents and collective chemistry. And while keyboardist Robert Lindquist does play lovely acoustic piano on the quiet mover “Teleology”, his electric work on “Balance” and my favorite track “Spin” blends with Hoffmann’s vibes to make the music literally glow.
And while most people would play it safe on their first recording, Canterbury is throwing Tom Brady bombs from the first snap – starting with putting Patneaude on soprano sax for the hard-charging opening title track. Once you get over the shock of Brian leaving his tenor sax in its case, you revel in the harmonic Canterbury and Patneaude create. These longtime friends / band mates work together so well, particularly on the hilariously rampant musical argument “Bickering.” Of course, the only real argument is in the title, because the sextet Canterbury put together is wonderfully simpatico from start to finish.
With DIY recording & publishing being The Thing in jazz nowadays, it’s way too easy to look at some of the young artists we have in Greater Nippertown and grouse, “Why haven’t you gone in the studio yet?” However, good things come to those who wait, and I’ve been waiting for Dylan Canterbury to knock his first CD out of the park for almost 14 years. Going Places isn’t a good thing – it’s a great thing that (once again) shows the staggering level of jazz talent this area possesses and showcases one of the most interesting musical minds I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.
Dylan was good enough to take a few minutes and discuss his first recording and his time studying with Faddis at SUNY Purchase, with a little jazz history thrown in:
The first time I saw you play was when Faddis brought you and Max Darché onstage during his set at Lake George. How much do you remember about that day?
Oh, I remember it quite well! It was shortly after I had started my sophomore year at SUNY Purchase. Most of my freshman year had effectively been a welcome-to-the-real-world training camp for me and my classmates, and that was actually the first time Jon allowed me to sit in with his band. To be up on the stage with Jon and Max (who was sort of a big brother figure to me) for the first time, and especially to be doing so in front of a home-town crowd, was intimidating but inspiring. Fun fact: Jon forgot his horn back at home that day and played the entire concert on a trumpet and mouthpiece that he had to borrow from Max! He also hadn’t played at all for a month or so, and yet he sounded the same as he always does. His mastery of the instrument from top to bottom, and his muscle memory, are absolutely psychotic.
What was Faddis like as an educator, and what techniques did you pick up from him that you use today at SUNY Schenectady?
Studying with Jon was an amazing experience on multiple levels. From a purely technical standpoint, each of his lessons was the trumpet playing equivalent of running the gauntlet. When I started with him, I had some pretty specific inconsistencies with my chops that limited my ability to execute what I was hearing, and he knew exactly what to do to alleviate them. Once he developed a routine, he would then proceed to drill it into me until it became instinct. Then we’d move on to the next thing. His lesson plans would change depending on what I was doing musically at the time, as well. For example, my senior year I was playing lead in both of the school’s big bands, so we spent more time on lead trumpet concepts than we had in the past when I was focusing more on soloing.
The thing that’s most impressive about Jon’s approach is how quickly he can diagnose a young player’s skills, regardless of instrument. He teaches a class that all seniors are required to take, and for the first day he had everyone whose playing he was unfamiliar with line up and play a couple choruses of blues. From just those little samples, he figured out everyone’s strengths, weaknesses, and styles, and proceeded to construct customized plans for each student accordingly. I have nowhere near that level of quick insight, but that adjusting to each student’s needs has been the most important thing I’ve incorporated from his methodology, both in my work at SUNY Schenectady and with my private students.
How do you like being an educator? Was that part of your plan post-SUNY Purchase?
I first started teaching private lessons while I was still in college, mostly to younger students who were on their summer breaks. I didn’t dislike teaching per se, but I did view it in more utilitarian terms than I do now. Basically, I just thought of it as a summer job. Then, 2 things happened when I was 25 that began to change my perspective. The first was that I took on my first two full-time serious students. I’m still working with one of them, while the other is now living in Philadelphia after having studied at Temple. Working with them was a complete pleasure, and as time went on I began picking up more students that shared their dedication and work ethic. The second was that I was afforded an opportunity to be a guest artist with the jazz ensembles in the Niskayuna school district. We spent the first two days workshopping the tunes into the ground, with the whole thing culminating in a concert. That experience was an absolute blast. I joined the adjunct faculty of SUNY Schenectady teaching jazz history the following fall and became the jazz ensemble director a few years later when Bill Meckley retired. At this point, it’s safe to say that education has become equally important to playing and composing as an aspect of my musical personality.
You’ve played with a ton of people, both in and out of the Capital Region, since you came out of Purchase. What’s been your best experience, and what (if anything) influenced the music on Going Places?
It’s really tough to narrow it down, but certainly one of the biggest honors of my career was getting to play on the debut performance of Arturo O’Farrill’s “A Still Small Voice” at Symphony Space in 2011. It was a piece written for Afro-Cuban big band with vocal choir, specifically the LaGuardia High School Senior Chorus. The week of rehearsals was tough because I was suffering a particularly nasty blast of spring allergies, but thankfully everything cleared up by the night of the show.
As for the album, its scope is much more overarching. It’s kind of a musical autobiography, reflecting on my overall musical evolution over the past few years. Chronologically, the first tune I composed that appears on the album was “Bickering,” which I wrote in 2011 while I was going through a major Dave Douglas phase. The most recent was “A Newfound Sense of Urgency,” which was actually inspired by the fact that the recording dates were coming up and I was still one tune short after hitting a block on what was initially supposed to be the album’s last track. Sometimes necessity really is the mother of invention!
Like a lot of Capital Region artists who’ve put out releases in the last few years, you crowd-funded Going Places. How did you find that experience, and were you surprised at the response?
It was a pretty smooth experience. I felt confident going in that I would be able to make my goal because I felt I kept expectations reasonable and made sure to budget everything out in advance. Brian helped me out a lot during the process as well, as he has much more experience in this realm than I do. I was certainly humbled by the response: The extreme generosity of the jazz community in the Capital Region is truly a blessing that I don’t take for granted. I was pretty stunned, however, when I started receiving contributions from people outside of my personal circle. The biggest surprise came from Jason Harrelson, who is a wonderful trumpet maker out in Colorado who does work for some of the finest players in the world. I’ve never met him but was familiar with the horns he’s crafted for people like Jeremy Pelt, and I was honored to receive his support.
The first thing that caught my ear about Going Places was the front-line makeup: Trumpet, reeds, and vibes. Where did that concept come from?
Trumpet and sax are the tried and true frontline of small group jazz, but I’ve always had a deep-seeded love of the vibraphone. One of my favorite Lee Morgan records is called “The Procrastinator,” which features Lee on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, and it’s just a really great sound. The way Matt plays vibes also offers up a lot of versatility. He started out as a drummer, and so his playing has a more percussive quality to it than other vibes players nowadays. In that sense, he’s almost more of a hybrid front line-rhythm section player, and that flexibility provided a great addition to the overall vibe (no pun intended) of the session.
Was it important to you to do all original compositions on the disc? How long did it take for you to put this set of music together from a writing standpoint?
It was very important, both from a musical and practical standpoint. Philosophically I wanted the album to be as full a representation of my musicianship as possible, so I would have felt a little awkward attempting to play someone else’s tunes. That, and playing all-original compositions meant not having to pay royalties, so there’s that factor, too.
It didn’t take a lot of time to assemble which tunes to play. I started by writing down a list of about 15 of my originals that I was most satisfied with, and whittled it down based on which ones worked best with one another in terms of style, pacing, and overall flow.
Another thing that grabbed me: Brian Patneaude on soprano sax! Was that his idea or yours?
Mine. When I first wrote “Going Places”, I just heard it as a flugelhorn-soprano tandem. I brought the idea up with Brian to see if he’d be into it, and naturally he was. That frontline has the potential to be really hairy intonation-wise, but Brian and I have been playing together so long that we just know how to lock in with each other without having to exert any serious effort. His soprano playing is superb, particularly his sound, which is very broad and full rather than reedy and bright – even a little oboe-like at times. I wish he would play it more often.
You and Brian really go at it on “Bickering.” You must have witnessed some knock-down, drag-out arguments in your lifetime! I love how Matt Hoffmann’s vibes appear in the middle as the “voice of reason.”
Not just witnessed – been involved in some too! One of my roommates in college was a guitar player turned legal clerk. We were (and still are) close friends, but disagreed on a lot of things – sports, politics, et cetera – and weren’t afraid to let each other know about it. It became a running joke that we would frequently go to bed after having a lengthy debate, only to pick up right were we left off the next morning. Just like in the tune, poor Matt, who was also our roommate, was stuck in the middle of our endless chirping. Thank God he’s probably the most patient human being on the face of the planet!
You told me that “Spin” was how you knew this session was going to work out just fine. Can you expand on that a little?
The band on this session was essentially a mash-up of the two bands that I’ve played with the most over the years. There’s the local band, represented by Brian and Roband the college band, which is made up of Matt, Mario and Jerad. I’ve played with each of those groups separately countless times, but this was the first time all six of us were working together. They’re such sensitive musicians that there was no chance they weren’t going to gel, but there’s always that feeling-each-other-out period during these occasions that has to be taken into account. For that reason, we started the session off with “Spin” because it’s a fairly straight-ahead tune that doesn’t move too quickly. Well, by the end of the first take we had fully settled into our sound. We did one more take, looked around at each other, and smiled. For the rest of the session, we never required more than two takes of a tune to find a version we were satisfied with.