November 06 2017

Talkin' All That Jazz: Tyler Blanton

New York
We sat down with New York-based jazz vibraphonist Tyler Blanton after his performance for our Sunset Jazz series at Top of The Standard.
THE STANDARD: You just got back from playing in Paris and Toulouse. How was that?
TYLER BLANTON: Amazing! It was the first time as a leader I was able to lead a tour with solid support. All we had to do is focus on the music, which is really a rare treat. Usually there are so many other logistics to keep track of in addition to the performing and the bandleader is just a stress case. 
The Standard
"To me, jazz represents improvisation, innovation, and communication in the musical medium."
Let's go back in time. Your first exposure to jazz was through your grandfather, who was a saxophonist. Could you share one of your earliest memories of falling in love with jazz? 
For me, it was more of a gradual thing. I'd get excited about an album, which would lead to hearing a new artist, then doing more research on where this and that came from. At some point, my listening to piano players such as Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson lead me to really immerse myself in the bebop language. That's still largely a base of my playing style, even though I rarely play straight forward bebop these days. Thats the language, tradition of jazz. I can hear that to some extent in every modern jazz player I really love today.

You entered music school as a percussionist, but ultimately focused on jazz vibraphone. What made you choose vibraphone?
My interest in the vibraphone coincided with my developing interest in jazz. I started getting into playing mallet percussion and at the same time discovered Gary Burton and Milt Jackson. The vibes really had a role in that music and I think it just clicked at one point that that was the instrument for me in this music. 
Tyler Blanton Electric's "BabySmacker"
You’ve been based in New York since 2007 and before that you were part of the San Francisco jazz scene. What do you miss the most from the SF jazz scene?
San Francisco is a beautiful place and I still have some dear friends there. I'm hearing of a lot of new places that are nurturing creative music there again, which gives me hope. At the time I moved, around 2008, there were really very few places to present creative music. That combined with the almost equally high cost of living as NYC made it a real challenging environment for creative musicians. Like I said, though, I think the tide is turning. Communities are starting to value and realize the necessity for cultivating a creative scene locally. It really needs support. Starbucks will be there, Chase Bank will expand, but if we don't as a nation really start to cultivate live music and performing arts in these metropolitan areas.....it's all going to be a homogeneous sprawl.

New York is surely the most inspiring city, but it's also a challenging place to live as a jazz musician. How do you deal with that balance?
It's a juggling act. A huge challenge is keeping time and head space for working on your craft with the ever increasing amount of promotion, booking...work that musicians are expected to do for themselves now. Some artists just decide they won't do it, and for a few it works out, but for many of us you really need to commit a considerable part of your work day to the music business. I hope that changes, especially for me. I spend more time writing emails than practicing a lot of days! [Laughs.]
Hornē Electric Band's "...and in that order" ft. Joel Frahm

We had a chat with NY jazzman James Weidman, and he said: "Jazz remains a creative art-form, which extends beyond music.” Do you have a personal example or experience that puts jazz beyond music?
I'm not sure exactly. Perhaps he was speaking to the cultural impact of jazz as a whole? Everyone has their own definition of what jazz is and what it means to them. That's the beauty of it—it can't be boxed in and codified. To me, jazz represents improvisation, innovation, and communication in the musical medium. That can be done in so many ways. I also prefer if it grooves or swings as well, but even that, there is beautiful music which I consider jazz which doesn't necessarily swing but meets those previous criteria. I'm sure some disagree with me. 

You have released the two albums Botanic and Gotham. Is there a new one coming up? 
I am hoping to document another jazz album and also record the Hornē Electric Band, which has just been playing a ton of shows all around NYC the last year.

What’s your most classic New York jazz moment?
So many amazing moments here. One that I remember is recording my first album at Systems Two studios, and every time I'd go out to the lobby, I'd run into and be introduced to some other amazing musician. I just remember, "Oh Tyler, this is Kenny Barron," or, "Do you know Jeff Watts?" or, "Hi, I'm Lionel Loueke." Every time I'd leave the tracking room. It was amazing to just realize that I was in the thick of it with these musicians that I've listened to for years. 

Sunset Jazz at Top of The Standard
Monday through Saturday, 4-9pm 
First performance at 6:30pm
The Standard, High Line
Live sketch of Tyler Blanton's Horne Electric Band
performing for Sunset Jazz by A.E. Kieren 
More about Tyler Blanton