Drummer-composer Devin Gray has long been in demand on the New York and East Coast scene, working with names such as Michael Formanek, Nate Wooley, George Garzone, Chris Speed, Sam Rivers, Uri Caine, Dave Liebman, and Bill McHenry among many others. Both his playing and compositions have been called, “texturally intricate and rhythmically absorbing” and that’s a pretty on-the-money description. His first recording as leader was 2012’s “Dirigo Rataplan” and his second, “RelativE ResonancE” was released in June 2015. Devin clearly also has a gracious side to him because he agreed to do the first “7 Questions for…” interview with a Jazz Noise. Here it is…
1. Name an experience that contributed to your becoming a musician?
Finally getting the chance to hear the Wayne Shorter quartet years ago!
2. What’s your ‘guilty’ listening pleasure? (i.e. something you listen to in secret?)
Foreign (Italian/Australian) pop music, and even some new American pop music…
3. What’s the balance of preparation vs. improvisation for the average live set or recording?
It really depends on what I’m in for, if i’m a sideman or the leader. Most musical situations I’m around these days are quite different and require different types of musical skills and concentrations. Hopefully rehearsals lead to higher understandings of music-making situations as this is something I am always excited about as a working musician. As well as fresh first time improvisational meetings that can often lead to inspired musical commitments and end results.
4. What’s the starting point for a composition? (assuming you have one!)
I’ve noticed that I have a few different working methods. For instance a composition that I am at the starting point of right now for me is more of a realization type of situation. As it goes, last February I was walking around NYC and in popped a thing, a snaky, slightly melodic, highly arrhythmical statement in my mind and ear. I started singing it out loud to myself as I was walking around and I quickly recognized that I was very committed to this idea, so out came the voice memo iPhone app for a 51-second one-take street recording.
Since then, that idea has been on hold waiting for me (in my inbox… can’t wait to remove it) to find the time to work on it. Just yesterday I finally found the right energy and excitement to work begin work on this musical idea.
I am working in small chunks with it. First I transcribed just the rhythm, which was much harder then I remembered. As I’m studying it more and digging into what I basically improvised in the street, I found out that it is in 7/8 with a few phrase extension bars of 3/8, some rhythmic superimposition and polyrhythmic modulation over the bar line things going on…
So I’m getting more excited and inspired by this and now I’m finally starting to get a feeling of how melody can be included in its relation to the rhythmic ideas. This will be the hardest part for me as I am fussy about being sure that I like it and want to stand by it and commit to it. From there on, it will be a constant edit type of situation where I check back with it while being as honest as I can with what I hear each time.
The time I transcribed/translated (there were a few voice breaks/uncertain concepts in the recording I had to solve to the best of my judgement) right from voice memo into Sibelius. I try to use the play back function (often using flute sounds to compose, not sure why, perhaps clarity of tone?) to see how long I can make it through this 24-bar idea without having to stop to change or tweak a passage. This could take 3 hours or up to a week before I feel like I’m really “done” with it, and this is LONG before I’ll realize what to do with it in terms of how I can try to present it and perform it, with who or in what situation. I love these processes, it’s endlessly exciting for me to be trying to create something I like. I might want to start arranging it for a specific group of mine or a new group, or for specific instruments, or add more ideas to it. I have to see where the music takes me!
5. Best and worst moments playing live?
Both at once… playing at a nice festival gig in Sweden on tour with a quartet years ago in front of an audience that you could just FEEL them breathing down your neck (in a positive way/the most exciting) and the band and music sounded great because we were playing every night. We were cruising, UNTIL I broke the bass drum head in the middle of the second to last tune… it was kind of like a crash and burn situation… Though the energy never fully left us, and the stage hands put a new one in front of me in a matter of minutes… but to be on a rather large stage and have that happen was perhaps the worst!
6. Where do you stand on the streaming/downloading/file-sharing/musicians-not-getting-paid-for-their-music debate?
This will always be a “problem” and streaming will never “pay” so my take is:
Hey, hi there, yes please stream it from ME, not them, go to MY website and hear MY music on a page where, if you are moved by what it is that WE artists are doing and want to help directly support us, the choice is right in front of you and is made easy for you to help us, because we DO really need it. That’s what I think about streaming these days. Why give them the music? We’re still ALWAYS in control, just think about how you want to control YOUR own music, you don’t have to do what they want you to do, EVER. Remember, WE are MUSIC, not them. That being said, please click here NOW 😉 devingraymusic.bandcamp.com
7. If money and time were no object, what would your next project be?
I’ll just keep working off of my personal list of current and future projects as there are about 10 of them. I’ve gotten to like, maybe 3… And I’d love to have help to record a second book of music I wrote late last fall for my Dirigo Rataplan band with Ellery Eskelin, Dave Ballou, and Michael Formanek.