Standard Sounds

New York State of Jazz

Meet jazz activist and bassist, Rob Duguay, curator of our Sunset Jazz program at Top Of The Standard.
TOTS: Before moving to NYC in 2007, you spent time in Paris and New Orleans. Would you say New York is still the capital of jazz? 
ROB DUGUAY: I still say that, hands down, NYC is the capital of the jazz world. Even in larger jazz-loving cities like Paris, New Orleans, Tokyo, there simply isn't the abundance of high caliber musicians like there is in New York. Some of the world's top musicians become small fish in NYC and that's a testament to this fact. 
Rob playing at TOTS
What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in jazz of late?
Seeing young kids who are super enthusiastic about live music and younger generations listening to players like Charlie Parker or John Coltrane. Another exciting feature of 'jazz' is the blending of musical styles and I'm excited to see groups mixing in genres like hip-hop, Indian traditional music, rock 'n roll and others. Jazz truly is world music and should always be celebrated as such.

Elegance, royalty, finesse, joy, and a sense of celebration

You are yourself involved in promoting jazz to kids and teenagers through the organization About The Swing...
About the Swing is one of the most important organizations for music and youth in NYC. We are an outreach program bringing world-traveling musicians to schools to interact with students and share their love of music and American history. With arts programs being cut left and right, students aren't given the opportunity to take music classes anymore and we are trying to fill that void one school at a time. When a student remarked "So you play the type of music that has instruments?" we knew we were desperately needed! 

What kind of activities do you support? 
Last year we started a tap dancing troop in Harlem, a steel pan drum ensemble in Brooklyn, and a vocal choir at a charter school in Harlem...  
Value Of Time by Songevity, one of the project of Rob
You're also the president of Keyed Up!, whose mission is to develop live jazz in the NYC region. Is it true that even in NYC it’s hard to live from jazz?
Life as a jazz musician has never been, and will never be, easy. Jazz musicians in the 60s and 70s were making $50 and a plate of pasta to play for 2-3 hours at a venue and - would you believe - that fee has largely remained the same in some venues. Keyed Up! forms relationships directly with venues who appreciate music and our goal is help venues raise the level of hospitality to musicians and people in the music community.

How is that made possible?
By doubling any contribution made towards regular engagements. Some of our favorite musicians to hire have played with the likes of Dizzy Gilespie, Miles Davis, and many more. To think that they may accept gigs for $50, shows you how needed our program has become. So far, we've given more than $70,000 directly to musicians in under one year, and we're currently seeking sponsorship to grow even more in 2016. 
Ahmad Jamal Trio at the Pershing But Not for Me
Let's go back to Top Of The Standard. The set up with the skyline is pretty unique. How do you manage the room and its acoustics?
It's a great room for the music and any acoustic difficulties are taken away with the state of the art sound system. The circular nature of the room creates a nice flow for the guests which can actually help the music stay lively and flow better, too. Sometimes, a band will try to 'outplay' the audience when it gets a little boisterous, but I find that even when it's in full throttle, the acoustics of the room allow the musicians to create a nice cushion of sound that augments the guest experience.

Could you pick one jazz record for the New York skyline at sunset? 

The Sunset Hour Jazz at TOTS has a vibe all of its own and the clientele seem to enjoy all types of music. Since it has the lovely piano as a feature, I would choose to compliment that and play one of my favorite recordings, Ahmad Jamal's Live at the Pershing. I believe this record, and the artist himself, share qualities with the venue, such as elegance, royalty, finesse, joy, and a sense of celebration.
You’ve been curating most of the jazz bands playing at TOTS and you perform yourself. What’s your vision when you play and curate?
I've been very grateful to become a part of the team, both as a curator and a performer. I enjoy mixing it up and booking lots of different types of musicians and instrumentation. As a curator of events with music, my main goal is to create an atmosphere that is conducive to the style of the night. For instance, no one wants to fall asleep at their holiday party, so I like to bring in horns or percussion instruments to liven things up. For an intimate cocktail, I would lean towards softer instrumentation such as piano/bass and drums with brushes to allow for more conversation. There are some amazing artists coming each month, the caliber of which, can not be exceeded - only matched.

Sunset Jazz at Top Of The Standard, from 4pm to 9pm, Monday to Saturday. The Standard, High Line. 

Coming up in February...
Wednesday, February 3rd: James Weidman (piano/bass)
Friday, February 5th: Christos Rafalides (vibraphone/bass)
Saturday, February 6th: Ron Affif (guitar/bass)
Friday, February 12th: Curtis Lundy (bass/piano)
Wednesday, February 17th: Jon Davis (piano/bass)
Friday, February 19th: Rick Germanson (piano/bass)
Friday, February 26th: Jon Davis (piano/bass)

Rob Duguay will release his new album Safe in Sound by Songevity Trio this coming March 2016.

All photos by Neil Aline

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