Drummer Rob Garcia might be the only man alive to have played with both Chicago creative music legend Joseph Jarman and Woody Allen. For the record, he’s also appeared with Wynton Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman and Diana Krall. If that suggests a wide musical curiosity and technical mastery, Garcia has all of those attributes and more. He’ll be appearing in Erie tonight under the aegis of JazzErie and at Cleveland’s terrific Bop Stop club on Wednesday.
The band is terrific. Saxophonist Noah Preminger is a restless and probing player who has been Garcia’s primary collaborator for 20 years. Bassist Kim Cass was brought into the band by Preminger and Argentine-born pianist Leo Genovese is onboard after an ear-opening turn in the bands of bassist and vocalist Esperenza Spalding. This, friends, is a heavyweight lineup.
I caught up with Garcia this morning as he was about to drive to Erie from Columbus where the quartet played last night.
Our conversation, edited for length and clarity is below.
lct: How did you get through last year? Was it okay? And what did you learn?
RG: I did some live streaming performances, a couple solo things. There was a monthly series at a very small art gallery in Brooklyn where a solo musician would come in and perform mostly improv. Some people would play worked-out pieces, but also amongst the art that’s on the walls, a sort of response to the art. We continued the series, and for a while we did a weekly series where a musician would do a remote performance from their home based on a particular set of paintings or artwork. I did a couple of those, a couple group livestream concerts, but for the most part, I practiced a lot. I wrote music, My grandfather, had a lot of 16-millimeter films that he took from 1936 to 1971. So I, I got into taking little pieces or making montages of the films and scored them. I created music through through recording at home and made videos of them which was which was satisfying. It was nice to have a collaboration with my late grandfather who’s passed away in 2002. And I continued to teach drum lessons remotely. I also took a part time job at the Park Slope Food Co-Op.
lct: Ah, the infamous Slope Co-Op! Is this the first time that you and the band have played out since the lockdown?
RG: You know, I play with lots of different bands, but since about mid-May of this year, it’s been quite busy. And a lot of these gigs are coming in last-minute. I’m a freelance musician like we all are. So, I play in lots of different bands and and actually did a couple live shows with this group in June and July.
lct: I want to ask you about this group, because you and Noah Preminger have been together forever it seems, but Leo Genovese and Kim Cass are new. How did this band come together?
RG: I met Kim through Noah. They know each other from going to school in Boston. He’s just such a amazing player, unique player playing stuff on the bass that I don’t hear anybody else doing. He has a lot of personality to his playing and very unique. Leo I met years ago. Over the years we would do some sessions and then I started calling to sub in my band at times when maybe Dan Tepfer was was doing most of the gigs or Gary Versace. I really enjoyed his playing and more things were working out for him to do it. And he’s such a unique player as well. I really feel like this combination is really special. Everybody has a very distinct sound, and plays their instruments so well and creatively and together, and we all have big ears; we’re listening to each other. And so we know how to make it work with each other, you know? I feel like the sound, the vibe is very present, and that’s really fun.
lct: And Noah Preminger has been with you for a long time. How did you meet and what do you hear in his sound that has made your association so rewarding?
RG: I first met Noah on a gig we both did with John McNeil, the trumpet player. John had a regular, a weekly gig in Brooklyn, and Noah was playing regularly with him. I’ve known John for years even before that, so I subbed in the band once in a while. So that’s how I met Noah. When I was getting a quartet together for the Douglas Street Music Collective I called Noah, and I really enjoyed playing from that first gig that we played together with John. I loved [Preminger’s] playing, I loved his vibe. Personality-wise, we got along well, and, and I just started calling him for all all my gigs. And the this sort of quartet kind of came together with with Noah, from the beginning. He plays my music really well, he understands what I want, the stuff off the page. And, and a lot of times I’ll write songs, with him in mind, like knowing his playing and knowing what he likes to do. We both continue to grow as players and expand our own vocabulary, and just make it work. I think it really works.
The Rob Garcia 4 will play Monday, September 13 at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Erie, 7180 Perry Highway, Erie, PA 16509 Erie, PA 16509 sponsored by JazzErie. This is a free concert.