By Edward Anderson
Nola Art House Music
I met Greg Gabb, 16, two years ago while directing a Saturday jazz program at Dillard University. He struck me as a quiet, well-mannered young trumpeter who was new to jazz but curious and eager to learn more. Although his jazz knowledge was minimal, the one thing that struck me immediately was his tone. Unlike the brassy sound popular with many of the kids his age performing in marching bands, or perhaps one of the many youthful brass bands in the city, his tone was pure, introspective, bell-like. Its warmth drew you in, more like a young Miles Davis or Bix Biederbeck than a Louis Armstrong. As we developed a relationship, I really encouraged him to develop that tone as a part of his musical identity. Two years later, with the help of a bunch of great teachers, a great attitude and a determined work ethic, Greg has matured leaps and bounds and is well on his way to becoming a “next generation” musician who will contribute to the great New Orleans musical legacy.
Greg’s hunger for knowledge is immense. In addition to lessons with me, he has finished a semester at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, where he studies daily with a host of New Orleans jazz masters. He spends time with Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown on Saturdays at Dillard University Jazz Program. He also studies with Jeremy Davenport, my old UNO classmate who has become one of New Orleans’ most popular musician/entertainers performing at the Ritz Carlton at the venue named for him, The Davenport Lounge.
So Greg … I know you are from Chalmette. I don’t know of much going on in that area regarding modern jazz. So how did you decide to engage jazz so seriously?
I don’t know … It just sort of happened. I got in the program at Dillard and just wanted to learn more and get better.
What about your folks? Is there music in your family?
Not really… my mom listens to country music mostly, and my dad is a classic rock fan. He listens to Journey, Styx, the Eagles; you know, mostly stuff from the 70s and 80s.
Is it a challenge to be in high school studying jazz? In my experience, jazz can make you sort of an outsider. I remember the way my friends would poke fun and thought I was crazy for listening to Miles Davis and even Prokofiev CD’s in my car all the time. How is your situation at Chalmette High School?
Yeah, it’s pretty much the same. A lot of the kids are into Lil Wayne, Drake, Death Metal … I don’t really know what you call the stuff they listen to (laughing) . I just kind of do my thing and keep it to myself. Sorta under the radar, I guess.
Talk about your relationship with Jeremy. What’s that like? What do you all practice? What do you all talk about?
He’s just a fun guy and I like his music. I usually go there on Tuesdays for my lesson and we practice in this sorta secret lair thing behind the Davenport Lounge. Its like his Bat Cave (laughing again). We work on some technical stuff out of method books, but then we also play. He will put on a recording and we will take turns exchanging musical ideas and responding to what each other has previously played. He also helps me by introducing me to a lot of the standards and popular tunes that he performs.
You mean the old Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Tony Bennett stuff?
Yeah. He encourages me to not only learn how to play them on my horn, but also to learn the lyrics. This is so I will have a greater emotional connection to the song when I’m playing it on my trumpet.
So who else have you checked out and gotten lessons from?
Well, I’ve been to Irvin’s club (Irvin’s Playhouse) and sat in with him and Kid Chocolate ( Leon Brown). I study with Leon on Saturdays at Dillard.
And what about your NOCCA experience?
I go there for the afternoon session (4-6 p.m.). We do combo and theory stuff. I spend time with Mike Pellerra (pianist/director) , Chris Severin, ( bassist) and Kari Lee (saxophonist).
We spend a lot of time really breaking down the theoretical component to jazz, learning harmony, licks ( jazz-based melodic phrases or patterns), playing the licks in all 12 keys.
And how do you make sure you actually internalize all this information that you are getting weekly? How do you practice?
I practice usually three hours a day.
Break a normal practice session down.
I do my warm up, which involves getting the blood flowing through my lips, working on flexibility, scales, and arpeggios.
I work on my classical repertoire, which focuses on technique, tone, playing etudes to develop musicality.
I work on my jazz stuff, which involves learning tunes, and working on my improvisational stuff.
When you speak about practicing your improvisation, we all begin trying to emulate our heroes. Which trumpet players are you’re you checking out these days?
I really like Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Clark Terry… Lately I’ve been checking out Freddie Hubbard. I really like the stuff he did with the Jazz Messengers. I just checked out the Caravan Recording… He really sounds good!
So tell me. If I had a crystal ball and I peered into it looking 10 years into the future, what would you want me to see you doing musically?
I really just want to play.
So you aren’t so concerned about being famous and playing all over the world?
If that happens that would be cool, but mainly I just want to play. If I can play and be good and be respected, then that’s cool…