by Giovanni Russonello
In New York City, you’re wont to hear older jazz musicians complain about all the young cats who, as soon as they leave music school and start landing their own gigs, only want to play their own newfangled compositions. “The kids don’t swing anymore,” “Stop reading from the music and play me something by memory,” “You can’t be writing all the time until you’ve mastered the classics” – all familiar refrains from the elders.
To Bobby Muncy, Gene D’Andrea and Kevin Pace, an inseparable triumvirate of D.C.-area jazz musicians, this is what you might call a good problem, a bit like having to worry about staining your Armani suit, or trying to decide which of the brilliant, beautiful women in your life you’d rather date. In the District, where the local scene’s heartbeat pulses to the classic swing of 1950s small-group jazz and most bands stick to the repertoire of that era, performers grapple with the opposite predicament.
“There are so many great composers on the scene, but none of them show up to gigs and play their music,” says Muncy, a saxophonist. That’s why he and his cohort have taken it upon themselves to change standard protocol – or at least to present an attractive alternative. For years, they played every Wednesday night at Utopia on U Street and enforced a strict house policy: nothing but original tunes.
And tonight at 5 p.m., at the Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle, they will play their first gig as the D.C. Jazz Composers Collective, an all-for-one outfit with a debut album slated for official release this April. (The record is already available for purchase at the collective’s website.)
“Mudblood,” D.C. Jazz Composers Collective (composed by Kevin Pace)
[audio:https://www.capitalbop.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Mudblood.mp3|titles=Mudblood|artists=DC Jazz Composers Collective|width=200]
As its name implies, the D.C. Jazz Composers Collective revolves around the original compositions of its three members. The new, self-titled album is comprised of six original tunes, and no covers. The tracks range form the relatively straight-ahead (bassist Pace’s “Mudblood”) to the darkly cinematic (pianist D’Andrea’s “Scary Music”) to the rakishly rockish (Pace’s “Appa”).
But perhaps most importantly, the collective’s ambitions go beyond its own membership. Late last year, after a long wait, the D.C. Jazz Composers Collective was granted nonprofit status as a 501(c)(3) organization. In legal speak, that means the group can now accept tax-deductible donations and apply for grants from arts foundations. Functionally, it makes the collective into a bona fide entity that could potentially become a polestar for area musicians with compositional ambitions.
Muncy, D’Andrea and Pace hope to start a quarterly concert series, with shows split into two halves: the first showcasing their own work and the second focusing on that of another area composer. “Musicians want to write, they want to compose, but then they’ll find their music sitting on a shelf for two years. That’s a crime,” Muncy says. “The more places that there are to express that – and a collective is one way to do it that I think is efficient and has a good structure to it – the better.”
The troika also hopes to organize hangouts where musicians can bring their compositions and hear them recited by a live band: “a reading session, once a month, where people in the community could come and get their charts played by a rhythm section,” D’Andrea says.
The collective’s Holy Grail is to attain its own space, D’Andrea explains, “something that we have the key to ourselves.” That may take years. But in the meantime, the three musicians are dedicated to finding ways to promote their own original compositions, and enabling others to do the same.
At tonight’s show, they will perform tunes from the new CD alongside drummer Andrew Hare, who was an original member of the Utopia band and appears on the collective’s album. Then the group will play a set at CapitalBop’s D.C. Jazz Loft on April 8, and will host an official album-release party at Twins Jazz on April 26. At Twins, they will perform with longtime friend and experimental guitarist and composer Anthony Pirog.
“Being a composer in today’s jazz environment is really fundamental; it’s not just an extra thing anymore,” Muncy says. For composers, having “some kind of organized outlet in every city is important.”