Adam Larson: Planting KC Roots
We talked right after the pandemic began in March 2020. Before we get to your new trilogy of albums, how have you been?
I think it's fair to say that people have had to deal with the reality of this situation in different ways. First of all, I have been very fortunate to have my family throughout all of this. I had some things in place before the pandemic that made it less uncomfortable than it could have been. I have taught a studio of virtual musicians since 2009, so I had steady income coming in. It was a Godsend.
I had my first taste of playing out in 2021. Wait, was that it? Man, it's all a blur now. Yeah, it was May of 2021. Over a year of not being able to play music live. I was thankful to be able to do that. After a year or so behind the screen, it was challenging (for me) to stay motivated and to not get depressed.
All things considered, I'm happy that my family is healthy and (that we) made it through what is hopefully the worst of it. There were a lot of things I was able to lean-into as a jazz musician. Part of being a creative musician is trying to find ways to solve problems. If the pandemic has proven anything, it is that we can use the internet to sustain things. It's a powerful tool and (it’s) a lot of work to master.
Musicians had to pick up a lot of new skills. What did you learn about yourself during this pandemic that made you realize you could re-emerge to promote a new album and hit the stage again?
The music technology part was important for me. Prior to the pandemic, I had never seriously opened Garage Band. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do. So, learning Logic (studio program) and making my way around Garage Band (playing virtually with others) was quite stressful for me. My mother and father are musicians, and my father has a background in music technology.
There's been two times in his life that he's been mortified about me as a son. The first time was when I had no concept of rhythm, when I started to play the saxophone. The other time was two-years-ago, when I didn't know what an XLR cable was! Trying to figure out all that technology was great, and I learned a lot about the home recording process via my laptop. Acquiring those skills to reach a wider audience via social media are great, too. That will (continue to) help many years from now.
I'm going to start touring (with) the record next month. So, the way I pump out the information on the tour is to connect the community together. At the end of the day, that's what this should be all about. Connecting the community. The technology part of this was important for me; teaching, recording, making books, and all of that. It's been an important learning curve for me to get good with.
With Love, From Chicago, your new release came out February 11th on Outside in Music. This is the first in a trilogy of albums. I know Chicago has been big in your development as a musician. Talk to me about how it feels having this release?
The gentlemen on this album are some of the finest musicians I have ever played with. I had the chance to play with them for the first time back in 2014. I came through Chicago as a teenager playing with (drummer) Winard Harper. I joined Harper’s band back in 2008, when I was a freshman in college.
We played (Chicago’s famous) Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase for a week. Joe booked everyone from Charlie Parker forward, he was always in the nightclub, and I got to meet him. He’s passed away now, and I was honored to meet him as a young kid in the music. He was kind, but not afraid to tell me how it really was. We developed a relationship over that week, that allowed me to lead my own band there.
That was six years later; Clark Sommers was on bass and Dana Hall was on drums, with me and my mentor John Wojciechowskion tenor saxophone. In Chicago, he is a hero.
I was told to get Clark and Dana for the album. I remember being quite intimidated. I knew their reputation. I called them and it was (we had) a good week, (performing together) so I was always looking for a good opportunity to play with them again. I was back at the Jazz Showcase in 2017, and I had Clark and Dana back in the band.
The three of us developed quite a musical relationship. Clark and I are close friends. So much so—that my second son is his namesake. Clark is his godfather, as well. The relationship on this record goes deep musically and personally, which is why I think this is one of the strongest records I’ve put out. There is a good energy, a chemistry between everybody.
Dana and Clark have been playing together for at least 20 years. They continue to be the formidable backline in the Chicago jazz scene. For decades at this point. Ironically, I grew up in Illinois and was about two hours south of Chicago, but I never went in as a kid because there were age restrictions (in the nightclubs). My playing in Chicago came almost exclusively after I’d moved to New York.
I love playing with these guys. There is a lot of trust, which means you can take a lot of risks. That's something with my own playing, I have become less risk averse over the years. I have been interested in let’s let things go wrong or get weird. That's something—when I was 18, or even 23—it would have been the complete opposite.
There’s a powerful energy in this album. A triumphant sound proclaiming that you are back after the pandemic hiatus. What are you hoping listeners get from this album and the trilogy?
I hope that listeners get a chance to hear me playing in a different context. Playing trio (for a horn player) is one of the most liberating and terrifying things you can do. I hope people enjoy the music. We are showcasing not only my own compositions, but Clark's as well. He contributes more compositions to this album than I do, I love that! As much as I love to write, I love to play other people's music. Getting to play other people's music allows me to get into another headspace. I hope people can hear the different influences, too.
The song Angolan Babysitter has a whole story behind it. The music is heavily influenced by two people that couldn't have less to do with each other, saxophonist Michael Brecker and rap artist Tupac Shakur.
As a leader of this jazz community, how do you see recovering from COVID and beyond?
We all need to support each other. I hope we go from saying, “Oh, I'll try to make it out to the show”, which often means folks aren’t going to make it out to the show, it means something more definitive.
After 2 years of being inside, I hope we actively get out and support live music. Since September 2021, I have hosted a jam session at Westport Coffeehouse Theater. We do it every 2nd Sunday of the month. It's been kind of a guided thing. The house band has been strong. Typically, it's John Kizilarmut, Ben Leifer, Roger Wilder, and myself. We play a house set, then we open it up to a jam session for anyone who wants to play.
I feel it's a great opportunity for college students, high school students, and whoever—to come play—with a band I would consider to be some of the greatest musicians anywhere. Not just in Kansas City, but period! I feel this is a way to build community.
I recorded the Kansas City record (from) my trilogy, first. We did that recording in June, and the Chicago date in August of 2021. My first impulse was to record the people I have been inspired by. KC musicians and others who come through here—are the ones I called first.
(We all need to be) taking in the music and showing support; doing what we can to help foster venues that are promoting and presenting creative music. It’s like this, we all have a role and a responsibility to be out (hearing music) as much as we can. We need to support things, myself included.
It's difficult to make the extra effort, to get out to support projects, but if you consider (that we’ve been) away from it for a couple years now, let’s get out there and support it. There is no replacement for that. No social media like or share is going to replace that live experience.
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