Jazz writer Philip Watson has described Marc Copland as “a roving ambassador for quietly intelligent, winningly complex and wholly engaging improvised music.” The Philadelphia-born pianist will release a new album on Monday October 17. ‘Someday’ features Belgian-American saxophonist Robin Verheyen, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber. Interview by Sebastian:
LondonJazz News: You formed a duo with Robin Verheyen in 2012, how did that come about?
Marc Copland: I knew of Robin from a nice album he’d done for Pirouet records, the label that I was recording for in the early 2000s. We met one night at the Village Vanguard, and it turned out he lived only a 20-minute train ride from me – so we made a date to play, just the two of us. It just kept going from there. We’ve done quartet and duo tours over the years; for awhile I was in Robin’s quartet, and now he’s in mine.
LJN: How would you describe the basis of your musical affinity with Robin Verheyen?
MC: We’re both into coming up with new ideas of harmony and melody. Most of the tunes Robin writes for us have unusual movement harmonically, melodically, and/or structurally. This perks up my ears and my mind. The greatest compliment I can give another composer is “wow, that’s cool, why didn’t I think of that?”
The other thing that’s important to me is musicians’ ability to listen to one another and work together as a team. Robin gets that. It’s a little harder for a horn player – you play your solo and then that’s kind of it. Except it’s not. A horn player can contribute to the band in all kinds of ways, certainly soloing, but even when not soloing. I think the way he and I play the melody of the title track of the new album – without any plan or discussion first – is a good example of that.
LJN: There is an expression used in Belgium which is “renvoyer l’ascenseur” (to send the elevator back), meaning to return a favour… and it came to mind when I noticed that you appeared on Verheyen’s album “When The Birds Leave”. How are the two albums different?
MC: Regarding the elevator: To be honest, when I first started playing with Robin, he was pretty young and definitely talented, but not fully developed. I like to think that our collaboration gave him some insight into how to go about taking his ability to another level – musically, of course, but also learning what it means to be an honest musician, kind of a “capital A” artist. Robin certainly sent the elevator back. His writing and playing sparked in me all sorts of ideas, opening up new angles and so forth. That’s what developing and exchanging is about.
I’ve been lucky to have had this kind of relationship with people frequently over the years, with John Abercrombie and Gary Peacock, for example. Now with Robin. It’s nice when two musicians can inspire and push each other. The only difference this time is that this time I’m the older one…c’est la vie.
As to the difference in the two albums: My band tilts a bit more towards my writing and concepts; but an even stronger difference is that my album’s much more recent. It reflects the tremendous development over the intervening years in Robin’s playing and composing, and in the growth of our musical relationship.
LJN: The dichotomy of “American jazz = swing” versus “European jazz = not-swing” is probably far too simplistic, but this quartet seems to be equally at home with swing (“Let’s Cool One”), not-swing (“Round She” Goes”), and in all the spaces in between…
MC: This is to me kind of an old canard. I’ve heard musicians all over the world who swing…and who don’t. You know the three things about a jazz musician that really don’t matter? Location, location, location.
LJN: You have played with Drew Grace for a long time. Have you and he developed a common sixth sense of what direction the music will take ?
MC: No question about that. As good as he plays, he’s still developing, which I really need and appreciate. And he’s a great composer as well, we play some of his material. His sound and facility are terrific – he’s got the bottom and the top of the instrument covered – and his knowledge of and ears for harmony are second to none. He’s into creative ways of voice leading in his writing, and his solos are really something. The relationship between and pianist and bassist is so important. I’m lucky to have had Drew as a collaborator all these years.
LJN: How far do you and Mark Ferber go back?
MC: I had played a couple of sessions and gigs with him in NY. One day Gary Peacock’s manager called and said we should plan another summer trio tour of Europe, and I should a) tell my European agent, who booked the trio, to get started, and b) find a drummer, because Joey Baron, who’ d been doing the gig for a few years, wasn’t available. I was kind of flabbergasted, as the summer wasn’t far off and it would soon be too late to get any gigs – but it was imperative that I take the drummer upstate to play with me and Gary and see if it worked.
I called Gary, and between my travel schedule and his there wasn’t time for that. I explained this to Steve (Gary’s manager), who said “just pick a drummer.” This wasn’t a decision I wanted. There’s not much that’s harder than trying to predict how a bassist and drummer are going to hook up. All the years I’ve been involved in this music, I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at that, but you really can’t tell until you actually play together. Because of the tight time window, I had a day or two to decide, and settled on Mark Ferber for a variety of musical reasons, plus I knew that he’d fit in personally. He went with us to South America, and later on to Europe, and Gary absolutely loved it. What it showed me was that Mark was into playing all different kinds of music, and – most important – he wanted to do whatever he could make the band sound good. You can’t ask for much more than that.
LJN: Where were the recording sessions and what were they like?
MC: We recorded two days in Queens, NY in January, 2022. This was a tough session for me, I’d gotten some scary medical news, which ended up panning out perfectly – way better then I’d dared hope – but I didn’ t know that yet. I was very fortunate, everybody was dialed in, and I’m very proud of the recording and how everyone contributed to it.
I like to leave a little room for spontaneity in a recording session – I never come in with more than 5 tunes or so. We had planned three of mine, a couple of Robin’s and then left it loose. Towards the end of the second day, as we were winding up, Robin suggested we play a “set” as if we were in a club. No stopping to listen, no coffee breaks, no plan, just play one tune after another. We did this for about an hour, and three tunes from that “set” – two of which were totally unplanned, including the album title tune – were so good that they made it to the album. It was a terrific suggestion. It’s great having a band like that, four creative cats who want to play and make the project as good as possible.
LJN: Are there plans to tour with this group?
MC: Absolutely. We’re touring Europe this coming December, and are planning more on the continent in April of 2023.
LJN: Do you have more albums in the pipeline ( I have more than a hunch that there is one already recorded in Montreal)?
MC: Yes, two trio albums already recorded and a third planned. Each trio is different and yes, one was done with Adrian Vedady and Jim Doxas in Montreal. I’m just starting to listen to those takes now.
LINKS: Sunday is on Bandcamp
Tour dates at Marccopland.com
LJN coverage of Marc Copland