NM Jazz Fest Honors John Trentacosta

John Trentacosta. Photo by Paul Slaughter.

John Trentacosta. Photo by Paul Slaughter.

Several High-Profile Friends Join the Drummer in Concert This Week

Since moving from New York City to Santa Fe back in 1992, John Trentacosta has made it his business to invigorate the jazz community in northern New Mexico, and he plays numerous roles to accomplish that: drummer, band leader, producer, educator, and radio DJ. This
Thursday at the Outpost, the New Mexico Jazz Festival honors his contributions by presenting him in concert. He’ll be joined by several friends who are gathering from across the country and within New Mexico to celebrate Trentacosta’s commitment and to play with one of the
swingingest drummers on the scene. They include vocalist Giacomo Gates, flutist Ali Ryerson, trumpeter Michael Morreale, reedman Arlen Asher, pianist Bob Fox, and bassist Earl Sauls.

“It’s a tradition of the festival to honor some major figure in the New Mexico jazz scene,” says festival codirector Tom Guralnick. As bandleader of Straight Up—“one of the standout groups in New Mexico jazz,” says Guralnick—as producer of several series over the years in a variety of venues, from Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill to the Museum Café, as a key figure in the formation of the Santa Fe Music Collective, Trentacosta has had a major impact.

Musical Friendships
“I’m going for the gusto here,” Trentacosta admits as he lists the members of the band who will be appearing with him. He’s got four-fifths of Straight Up, which he founded in 1996. Santa Feans Asher and Fox don’t have to travel very far, but Morreale is coming in from Staten Island, Trentacosta’s former home base. Retired bassist David Parlato is the only member missing, “but I’m bringing in my man Earl Sauls from New York,” says Trentacosta. “We’ve played together for like 35 years.” Gates and Ryerson, respected performers on the international circuit, are flying in for the gig, too.

How did Trentacosta corral all these folks for a one-nighter? “I guess one has to say it goes
beyond music—or maybe it’s one and the same—which is friendship,” he says.

Photo by Paul Slaughter.

Photo by Paul Slaughter.

The New York Connection
Morreale and Trentacosta met in the mid-70s, playing together in a band that performed the music of a young saxophone prodigy, Drew Francis, who was then 16. (From the small world department: a brother and a nephew of Francis, who passed away at the age of 39 in 1999, live in Albuquerque. Nephew Max works at Grandma’s Music.)

The two bandmates’ friendship was cemented when they discovered that they shared the same mentors: underground trumpet legend Don Joseph and rhythm guitarist Turk Van Lake, known as the white Freddie Green, who arranged for the Basie band, among others, in the forties. (Check out this clip of younger versions of Morreale, Sauls, and Trentacosta performing in Morreale’s quintet with both mentors.)

The New Mexico Connection
Both Fox and Asher have played with Trentacosta in Straight Up from the get-go. The band has won regional acclaim for its swinging straight-ahead jazz and recorded two well-received
albums, Live in the Desert and No Need for Words, the latter of which won Trentacosta a New Mexico Music Award as producer.

“I got Bob Fox to take off his gig, which he’s been doing for over 20 years now,” says Trentacosta. “Why he’s never really on the jazz scene is because he’s the house piano player at La Casa Sena here six nights a week.” It’s a rare event for Fox to ditch his gig and hit the bandstand, and Trentacosta is thrilled to have him.

Trentacosta sums up just about everyone’s estimation of Asher quite simply: “He’s beautiful, man.” The reedman and educator, who cohosts “The Jazz Experience and the Bopera House” on KSFR on Monday mornings with Trentacosta, has been a staple of tasty jazz here for decades. “He’s always been such a great musician,” Trentacosta adds. “He was a key part of the quintet, and he and Michael Morreale have a beautiful chemistry.”

Giacomo Gates. Photo by John Abbott.

Giacomo Gates. Photo by John Abbott.

Further Connections
Trentacosta, who has played with a Who’s Who role call of jazz greats—Eddie Daniels, Kenny Davern, James Moody, Bobby Shew, Lee Konitz, and Frank Morgan, to name but a few—met Gates when the Straight Up rhythm section was hired to back the vocalist at a Colorado festival in the late ’90s. “I met Giacomo, and it was an instant click,” says Trentacosta. Not only did they share similar tastes in jazz and a commitment to education, but they both are also “Lenny Bruce nuts,” Trentacosta says. In fact, Gates, who is acclaimed for his vocalese and for his hip and engaging live performances, does a rendition of Bruce’s famous “All Alone” bit on his upcoming album Everything Is Cool (available July 24 on Savant Records).

Ali Ryerson

Ali Ryerson

The Ryerson-Trentacosta connection came in a similar fashion, with the flutist sitting in on a gig in Santa Fe, where she spends time teaching most summers. “When we played together the first time, it was an instant musical friendship,” the drummer says. “It was a great collaboration, and we became good friends.” Consistently voted among the top jazz flutists in the Downbeat Jazz Poll, Ryerson brings bebop chops to everything from small combos to her 19-piece flute big band, heard on her most recent release, Game Changer (Capri Records).

The Musical Menu
Trentacosta says there will be time for only one rehearsal, but given the shared vocabulary and the level of musicianship among these players, he’s confident that “it’s going to be great. . . . Everybody’s going to be comfortable. Everybody’s going to be doing their thing.”

The repertoire will include some Straight Up numbers. Gates and Ryerson will be featured on a couple of their tunes. A flute duet between Asher and Ryerson will finally satisfy their mutual desire to play together. There will also be a couple of bebop heads that allow everyone to blow and that give Gates the chance to do his vocalese thing. In short, it sounds like a full evening of satisfying music shared among friends.

John Trentacosta and Friends
Thursday, July 16, 8:00 p.m.
Weil Hall at the Outpost Performance Space
210 Yale SE, Albuquerque
Tickets $30 general/$25 members and students
For tickets or more information, go here, or call 505-268-0044.

© 2015 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “NM Jazz Fest Honors John Trentacosta

  1. Mark Weber

    I’m sure hoping Johnny brings some of his illustrious friends with him when
    he visits my Noontime jazz show this Thursday . . . . . KUNM Albuquerque


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