Here is an interview I did recently with Howard Dukes of the South Bend Tribune as a preview for Sweet Talk's recent gig at Merriman's Playhouse. A nice surprise that we made the cover.
Jake Henry says his introduction to jazz began with Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
One way of thinking says that’s pretty standard. High quality, yes, but still pretty standard. Especially when you consider the type of avant-garde jazz that trumpeter Henry plays as a part of the trio Sweet Talk, which performs Friday at Merrimans’ Playhouse.
“Glitterbomb,” Sweet Talk’s new album, features the kind of free jazz improvisational techniques that a listener might hear from Ornette Coleman. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, and a tune such as “Montreal” that features rock guitar elements and free-form horn solos is not “All Blues.” However, by the 1970s, Davis had embraced jazz fusion, and he incorporated keyboards, synthesizers and electric guitars into his band.
Davis’ music even featured some of the free-form techniques often associated with avant-garde, and Henry drew inspiration from that.
“Miles and Coltrane both set progression as a priority in their music,” Henry says. “Coltrane being a prominent early figure in free jazz to which avant-garde is an extension, and throughout their entire careers, they were both searching for new ways to frame the jazz that they were playing, and out of that exploration came their innovations. I was inspired by that sense of adventure. It’s what pulled me in early on.”
Henry says he views the music he plays now as a logical extension.
But his musical journey started in a conventional place.
“Like most people, you start with the records that you can find and there is something that pulls you in,” Henry says.
So Henry, who played both guitar and trumpet at the time, listened to and played mainstream jazz.
“I played in a bunch of jazz groups in high school and in big bands that played the music of Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton and Count Basie,” he says.
Soon, the Toronto native gravitated to the music of artists such as trumpeter Dave Douglas, a player who fuses free jazz elements into his music.
“He was one of the first people I listened to that was more on the fringe of things that interested me,” Henry says.
He says he and his brother often listened to a Toronto
radio station that played avant-garde jazz during their trips to gigs across Ontario.
“We’d listen to this radio program and there was a lot of interesting music on that program,” he says.
Soon, Henry was listening to other progressive players, such as saxophonists Tim Berne, Tony Malaby and Chris Speed.
Henry played the guitar and trumpet until deciding to focus on the horn in college.
“I went on tour with a big band where I was playing trumpet and realized that
either I could play the guitar full time and well and the trumpet poorly, or I could play the trumpet full time and well and the guitar OK, so I decided to go with the trumpet.”
Henry also says he has more opportunity to innovate on the trumpet.
“The guitar has had a lot of focus on it in the last 30 or 40 years in jazz,” he says. “I didn’t see as much focus on the trumpet, so I thought it would (have) perhaps a more unique voice.”
Sweet Talk consists of Henry, guitarist Dustin Carlson and drummer Devin Drobka.
Henry found a kindred spirit in Carlson, whom he met at a workshop in Alberta.
“After I moved to New York, I met Devin and I knew he was the right drummer for the project,” Henry says.
As the trio discussed the sound they wanted to develop, finding something that appealed to them creatively stood out as a key component.
“It might be fringe already, but I wanted it to be something that I would like to listen to or that somebody with a similar sensibility would like to listen to,” Henry says.
It’s a niche market, but an appetite exists for music made by groups such as Sweet Talk, Henry says.
“In New York City, there is a community of improvisers and avant-garde composers who are pushing the boundaries,” he says. “There is a scene, and within that scene, we are having good luck with booking gigs and getting good feedback, and we can only hope that it continues.”