Standard Sounds

ONYX Collective's Own NY Spin

We sat down with NY musician Isaiah Barr before he returns to Top of The Standard to perform with his dance-jazz collective, ONYX, featuring John Benitez as a special guest, on Sunday, February 12th.
THE STANDARD: You said Onyx is a growing collective of NY artists and musicians. What's your common ground? 
ISAIAH BARR: One dollar pizza slices, Tompkins Square Park, Barry Harris' Master Classes, love of Woody Allen movies, vintage clothes, crate digging at any record shop, Lucien diners, Sly Stone impersonations, weekly visits to The Village Vanguard, MoMa visits, Boogie Woogie, impromptu freestyles...
Isaiah Barr (right) jamming with Dev Hynes at The Top of The Standard (photo by Neil Aline).

"I gather all the great NYC alien musicians that I know to help me in my journey to the galaxy." –Isaiah Barr

What was your motivation to create the collective almost years years ago? 
I wanted to find a way to express myself by playing my original music, and since I'm not a bedroom musician, it made sense that I gather all the great NYC alien musicians that I know to help me in my journey to the galaxy. I like collaborating and improvising, so having a bunch of musicians and artists to work with is my paradise. 

Last year, Paper  wrote ONYX is “turning artists, skaters and hip hop heads on to jazz.” Is that a good description of what you do?
I hope and trust that the artists, skaters, and hip hop heads were turned on by jazz before ONYX. Maybe we make it more accessible because we are friends with cats in those worlds, and we express what we do in a way they can relate to. But I don't think of it as a "jazz" thing, it's just music and our own spin and style on things. We try to focus on "playing the room" and finding the right vibe for what is happening around us, and hopefully everything is cool after that.
ONYX has performed at The Top of The Standard with Dave Glasser, Pete Malinverni, Dev Hynes, and Nick Hakim (photo by Neil Aline).
Wonderland wrote something similar, saying ONYX is "old school free jazz which meets the new school New York art scene.” 
I'm not too sure what "old school free jazz" really means. I guess that sometimes folks might dig deeper into the music after they hear us performing the music of Eric Dolphy or Charlie Parker. In that way, I hope people are intrigued and do some listening for themselves if it's new to them. Or if they see Roy Nathanson, who is from a different generation, playing with us, maybe that has a certain effect. Hopefully we are able to bring our own sound and feeling into certain environments, and create a connection with our audiences. There's a certain time and place for all sounds, ya dig? We definitely are not just playing to one style or vibe.

Aaron Bondaroff has been a supporter and let you express yourself on his radio Know Wave.
No comment at the moment on that...Thank You, Know Wave, for letting us experiment. It was a great journey and learning experience. It continues to be a great experiment and platform to create with.

"I don't think of it as a 'jazz' thing. It's just music."

Would you say there are some similarities with London’s acid jazz movement of the late 80s? 
I can't say I know much about London acid jazz of the late '80s. I gotta get HIP! 

You said, “there is a place to find jazz in the city every night.” What is your favorite place?
The Village Vanguard and The Stone.

What's your definition of a New York minute?
You gotta be at the gig on Grand St. in Soho at 9:00, and you show up 30 minutes late because you went to the Grand St. in Brooklyn!

On Sunday, February 12th, Top of The Standard presents ONYX Collective
The Standard, High Line | 6pm-9pm 
Lead photo by Neil Aline

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