As part of a week-long tour through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, guitarist Joshua Breakstone will lead a trio at Natalie’s on Tuesday, August 15th at 8pm. Tickets and more info are available here. Breakstone is a renowned jazz guitarist who has released more than twenty albums as a leader and has recorded with jazz greats including Pepper Adams, Kenny Barron, Jimmy Knepper, Tommy Flanagan, and Jack McDuff. He has also toured extensively, most notably including biannual trips to Japan since 1986. He will be joined on stage at Natalie’s by Columbus favorites Roger Hines (bass) and Reggie Jackson (drums) – the same group will also play Blu Jazz in Akron on Saturday, August 19th. Breakstone is also a skilled educator. He will be available for private lessons in the area on August 14th, 15th, 16th, 19th and 20th – contact him here to make arrangements. I was thrilled to have the chance to speak with Breakstone by phone and discuss 88 (his 2016 album with his Cello Quartet), the new PBS documentary Joshua Breakstone, Soft Hands: Jazz Ethereal, and more. Keep reading to learn more from Breakstone in advance of his performance.
I’ve really enjoyed your latest album 88, which has been very well-received. What inspired you to record an album of tunes by pianists with your Cello Quartet?
Joshua Breakstone (JB): Thank you. Yeah, there have been some recordings that I’ve done over the years that have been “themeless” recordings, and that’s great. As of late, my record company Capri Records really loves the idea of having some sort of unifying idea behind a recording. I think that’s kind of an interesting thing as well. I have recorded many times with just the tunes that I’ve been in love with at that moment. But in this case, since we were looking for a unifying theme, I took a look at the things I was playing already, that I was interested in and attracted to at the time. And there were so many great tunes by pianists. So I started thinking about that as a theme, the idea that so many of these guys were better known as sidemen, maybe they’re better known as soloists, than they are as composers. I thought it would be really nice to shine a little light on each one of these great players, and the composer side of those musicians.
How did the Cello Quartet come to fruition?
JB: The Cello Quartet is kind of a unique musical formulation. It started in Japan, with a Japanese bass player who had brought me over to Japan and was also a promoter who brought me over to Japan many, many times. His name was Nishiyama. Nishiyama-san had the idea that it was a lot for him to be hauling around a big bass, and that he was going to start playing cello. He asked me about doing a tour with cello – rhythm section and cello. I said, “Well OK, go ahead, I always liked the sound of the cello, I have no problem with that.” I thought it was going to be like adding a trumpet or a saxophone, adding a solo instrument. After just a few nights of the first tour (we did two tours with that group), I started hearing that group differently. I started hearing that group as a string section with percussion. That’s when I became interested in and really excited about that group.
It’s just the sound of all those strings – the six strings of the guitar, the four strings of the cello, and the four strings of the bass – that really creates an acoustic sound, and that’s why we call it the Cello Quartet. I’ve had the comment many times: “What is this, a cello quartet? Sounds like you’re talking about a string quartet. Or you’re talking about four cellos. What is the deal with that?” I like the idea that if I record something with a trumpet player, or a saxophone player, people call it a quartet. I just wanted to point out that this was a quartet with a cello, because that is such a rare thing in the history of jazz.
You mentioned Japan. You tour there annually, correct? How did that start in the first place?
JB: Well, it really started with Nishiyama-san. I did a recording for Contemporary Records, which was a big company owned by Fantasy Records. I did a number of recordings for them. For the first one that I did, Victor JVC bought the rights for Japan for that recording and brought me to Japan. So I traveled in Japan, and when I got to Kyoto, I met somebody who I became friends with, and he knew about a club in Osaka called The Sub Club. And that was Nishiyama’s club. He asked me if I wanted to go there one night and check it out, and I said sure. I went there with him on the train, and I went into The Sub Club and Nishiyama asked me if I wanted to play, I said sure, and in two minutes we knew we were going to be friends forever.
I had no idea that he was a promoter, but after we got done playing, he said, “I want to ask you, in a few months how would you like to do a tour in Japan?” I said, “I’d love to,” and that was the first of all these tours I’ve done, I think I’ve done almost sixty tours – two tours a year for thirty years. He started bringing me twice a year, and that’s how I started my association with Japan. There’s a PBS documentary that’s been made by Colorado Public Television, and that new documentary largely deals with my association with Japan, and with the Cello Quartet, and many other topics. The film crew came to Japan for six days, and filmed me while I was on tour in Japan. So we have quite a lot of Japan-related scenes in that documentary.
How was the experience of recording that documentary?
JB: It was fun. They came to New York and shot for three days here, and actually filmed – you can see it in the documentary – one of the rehearsals of the Cello Quartet for the most recent record, 88. So three days here, one day in Denver where they’re from, where I was out doing a concert, and then six days in Japan. We were in Tokyo, at a pretty famous Japanese jazz club called Sometime, and then all around Kyoto and Kobe. It was a very unique experience being followed around by a film crew all day everyday, but it’s a nice document, and it’s nice to have the attention paid to what I’m doing.
Do you have any new projects in the works?
JB: I’ve been talking to a few people, in Japan and the United States, about doing a recording and the theme of the recording is something along the lines of “The Children of Art Blakey.” What that would mean is people who performed with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, and again, it’s that same idea that these great sidemen, great musicians, to maybe represent them as the “children” of Art Blakey and take a look at some of the great music that they as composers contributed to that band, or maybe even at a time when they were not with Art Blakey and what they contributed to the jazz world. I’m starting to work on that, I hope we can get it recorded early next year.
Do you have much previous experience with Columbus?
JB: Yes, I played Dick’s Den, I played at the Jazz & Rib Festival with Ernie Krivda before. I’ve come in to Capital University many, many times to do workshops. I’ve done some concerts at Denison University. I actually lived in Cincinnati for about four years, and would come up to Columbus to play on the way to Cleveland and all of that. So I kind of go back to the old days in Columbus as well.
I see you have a great band for your show here. How did you connect with Roger Hines and Reggie Jackson?
JB: Roger, as you can imagine from my having been over at Capital University where he’s a professor, I’ve known for quite a long time. He’s been in those Ernie Krivda groups I’ve played with over the years. So Roger I go way back with. But Reggie, this going to be the first time. So I’m really looking forward to getting a chance to play with Reggie on this trip.
Can you give us a general idea of what to expect for your show?
JB: We don’t really plan too much. But there will be some of the material from 88, and there will be some other things. Whatever catches our ear at the time. We do play it by ear, in the sense that we go by the feel of the audience and the moment. I’m not one of those kinds of bandleaders that likes to plan out sets. Sometimes you go on a trip with somebody and they give you their setlist for the tour [laughs], always playing the same tunes in the same order in the same places of a performance. I am definitely not like that. We mix it up – we’ll play some standards, we might play an original or two, we play some things that are lesser known, some that are more widely known, some ballads, some Latin tunes – a little of this, a little of that.
Check out samples of the PBS documentary: