The 2016 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival (XRIJF) is running until July 2. Among the hundreds of musicians gathering for this major musical event are many Eastman faculty members, alumni, and students. Free-lance writer Dan Gross is blogging regularly during this period with reports and interviews highlighting Eastman’s involvement in the XRIJF. Here, Dan interviews Eastman professor Dave Rivello, whose band performed on June 30 in the festival.
By Dan Gross
Ohio native Dave Rivello, who has been teaching at Eastman since 1999, is an Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media and is the Director, New Jazz Ensemble. Rivello is also currently working on a new masters degree, a Masters of Music degree in Contemporary Media/ Film Composition that’s set to start Fall 2017. Last year, Rivello co-produced with Ryan Truesdell the Gil Evans Project CD, “Lines of Color,” which received a Grammy nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. Rivello continues to teach, compose, and perform with his uniquely constructed group, the Dave Rivello Ensemble, which played on Thursday, June 30, at the Little Theater.
What was your early experience in music?
My grandfather, Tee Ross, had a big band on the road in the ‘40s and then opened a music store in Struthers, Ohio. He was an accordion player and taught thousands of musicians to improvise long before there were colleges teaching that. He got me my first trumpet and later inspired me to start composing. When I was old enough to walk, he took me to hear bands at Idora Park Ballroom every summer. Some of the bands I heard were Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones & Mel Lewis, and later Count Basie and Sun Ra.
How did your experience as a student at Eastman, and working with Ray Wright, influence you?
A quote from Ray Wright (well, I remember it this way, anyway) that has stuck with me: “The line between daring and wrong is a very fine line. You should always walk that line.” That open approach, that anything is possible … obviously I got the training and the skills from him, but it was also that.
I wrote a piece while I was still a student, or maybe just after, called “Absolute Window,” and I dedicated it to Ray. That’s how I saw him, a window that looked in all directions. No matter what kind of piece that I was studying with him, or whatever I wanted to write, in whatever style it was, Ray was right there, even though he may not have liked that kind of music; but he could guide you.
He was so aware of everything happening. He was teaching us synthesizer stuff in ’87, when the DX-7 was brand new, and it was the beginning of the synthesizer craze. He was on top of all that. It just gave me this feeling that I could do anything, and I got that feeling from Ray and the way that he taught.
I’ve taken the way that he taught and that’s how I teach now at Eastman. It comes directly from the way that Ray taught.
How have you been able to use the Dave Rivello Ensemble to get yourself and your work across?
In ’93 – I had finished my Master’s degree at Eastman some years before in 1989 -and studying with the great Ray Wright, the reason I went to Eastman – I thought long and hard about it, and I was always influenced by the music of Gil Evans. He always had a tuba, so I always wanted a tuba, which is a little unique for a small “large” ensemble, but it came from Evans’ influence. I also thought long and hard about what I wanted my dream instrumentation to be, an ensemble for which I would write my music for the rest of my life. It was a big decision. My band doesn’t have the usual large jazz ensemble lineup. A large ensemble’s sax section includes alto, tenor, baritone … My band doesn’t have some of that. My band has soprano only –in a large group, the alto players will double on soprano – and I have a tenor player, and I only use bass clarinet, which in a big band the bari player would double on. The reed players also double on flute and clarinet.
In the trumpet section, two guys play trumpet and never play flugelhorn, and one guy plays flugelhorn and never plays trumpet. I write for the flugelhorn like a French horn, and two trombones and the tuba fill out the brass section. It’s a certain sound that people say is unique, and I realized at one point is that part of that I have no E-flat instruments. I think that’s part of the darker sound that comes out of the band, which I really hadn’t thought about; I like alto, but I like soprano more, and I wanted a band that was slightly smaller and more portable than the full-size band.
For me also, at that point I had written a lot of music for standard jazz ensemble. As an artist, I could do my four trombone voicings in my sleep, and I said to myself: “That’s not good.” So the best way to find a new way to work is to take away some of the things you are used to, and I sat down, and discovered I created my own problem, but I could move myself forward.
In 1993, the band made a recording that no one ever heard, and I sent it to some labels. It was a 45-minute suite with the pieces all connected. It’s wasn’t radio-friendly. I might “backwards release” it one of these days. John Hollenbeck was on drums, Gary Versace, who’s been playing with John Scofield and just played with John Abercrombie a few days ago, was on piano. That was the first iteration of the band.
Then every year for a long time we would do a couple of performances a year, including the Eastman high school summer jazz camp, so this would be our 23rd year of that; minus the one year I took the Eastman Chamber Jazz Orchestra (with Ryan Truesdell) to the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy. Other than, we’ve played every year since ’93. But we weren’t playing regularly, but somewhere around 2000 we started playing at Le Jazz Hot Café every Monday night. We eventually moved to the Village Rock Cafe, and we just celebrated our 10 years of Thursday nights with them.
You’ve been this ensemble for 23 years now. Who are some of your regular players?
Normally, Jeff Campbell on bass, Darius Terefenko on piano, and Mark Kellogg on trombone are regular members. Some Eastman students, mostly graduate students – since the music isn’t very easy – and also Mike Kaupa on trumpet. He’s been with me since ’93. Aside from myself, he’s the longest-standing member of the band. Dean Keller, who now has his own group in town, the Rita Collective, has been with me thirteen years and plays bass clarinet with us.
Playing at the Jazz Fest is not new for you, but as a community member, how do you feel bringing your music, jazz music, to this community?
I’ve always said that it’s an honor to get to play this festival. It’s amazing festival. People sometimes ask me, “Oh, do you get passes?” Nope, I buy a club pass every year, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m supporting this too. I think it’s an amazing event for Rochester and they’ve been very supportive of us, and they often hear my band at the Village Rock. John Nugent has sat in with my band. It’s an honor as a Rochester-based band, there’s a lot of bands and John and Marc do their best to give everyone a chance. We’ve had the opportunity to play many times, and each time it’s still an honor.
It’s also a different group of people that we get to reach. So many people are down there at the festival, and they wouldn’t necessarily be at the Village Rock, or a local club off of the beaten path… What excites me about it is that it’s potentially a whole new group of people that can experience the music, and hopefully be moved by it.
Dan’s remaining Jazz Festival posts this week will include interviews with Eastman professor Harold Danko, and Eastman alumnus and GRAMMY nominee John Hollenbeck.