Tyler Blanton Biography
Vibraphonist and composer Tyler Blanton is becoming recognized as a rising star in the New York City jazz scene. Over the past five years, his work has received notice by numerous major publications including Downbeat, Jazztimes, Village Voice, and The New York Times. Blanton’s second studio album as a leader, “Gotham,” is scheduled for release in March, 2014.
A native of California, Blanton began playing guitar and drums in his early teens. Early exposure to jazz came by way of his grandfather, Joe Cavaglieri- a tenor saxophonist prominent in the big band and swing music scene surrounding Los Angeles in the 40’s and 50’s. Entering music school as a percussionist, Blanton quickly steered towards mallet percussion and ultimately jazz vibraphone as his principle musical outlet. After starting his schooling at California Institute for the Arts, Blanton finished up his undergraduate degree in music in 2006 from Sonoma State University in northern California. By the time of his graduation, Blanton had firmly established himself in the greater San Francisco Bay Area Jazz Scene. In addition to keeping a busy schedule as a sideman, he was involved in several working projects with many of his mentors and faculty members at the University, most notably guitarist Randy Vincent.
Determined to further his music, Blanton took the plunge and permanently relocated to New York City in 2007, settling in Brooklyn. Upon his arrival, he took on a strong presence as a band leader and composer, quickly connecting with many influential players in the scene and performing around town at venues such as Smalls, La Lanterna, and Cornelia St Cafe. The culmination of Blanton’s first two years in New York is reflected in his 2010 debut album, “Botanic,” which featured drummers Richie Barshay and Jared Schonig, bassists Aidan Carroll and Dan Loomis, and saxophonist Joel Frahm. Upon its release, “Botanic,” garnered considerable notice, earning reviews in Downbeat and Jazztimes magazines, as well as being chosen as a top album of the year by both Hot House and Village Voice Critic’s polls that year.
Shortly after, Blanton embarked on a new set of compositions for which he would spend the next two years writing, rehearsing, and revising. Blanton’s forthcoming release, “Gotham,” is the documentation of this new body of composition. “Gotham,” is a suite of music written specifically for Blanton’s current working quartet consisting of drummer Nate Wood, bassist Matt Clohesy, and saxophonist, Donny McCaslin, and Blanton on both vibraphone and Malletkat: a midi controller played similar to that of a vibraphone which is used to trigger samples and synthesized sounds. The 6 compositions on the album take the listener on multi-genre soundscape that draws from modern jazz, rock, electronica, and a variety other eclectic musical influences. “Gotham,” is scheduled for release on March 25, 2014.
The Best of Tyler Blanton
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“A Young Vibraphonist with strong lyrical footing”
– Nate Chinen (New York Times)
“An heir apparent to the swinging and melodically charged throne of post-bop masters Gary Burton and Bobby Hutcherson, vibraphonist Tyler Blanton has slowly emerged as one of today’s rising jazz stars”
– Seton Hawkins (Hot House Magazine)
“…all mallet-wielders beware,
as said in the old western movies-“There’s a new Sheri in Town”
– Mark Keresman (Jazz Inside NY)
“Affable and hard- swinging”
– (Time Out New York)
Interview with Tyler Blanton
Earlier this week, Festival Archive was able to touch base with one of our all-time favourite Vibraphonist, Tyler Blanton. Here’s what had to say…
If somebody has never heard your music before, how would you describe it to them in one sentence?
Depends on which project of mine they heard, as my work is quite eclectic these days. It could be described as melodic and swinging or edgy, rocking and groove oriented, depending on the group.
Who were your main musical inspirations growing up?
So many…. as far as the vibraphone goes, certainly Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson and Gary Burton. I came up playing standards and studying the be-bop language. Now my music draws from some element of that but also a whole bunch of other modern and eclectic musical idioms.
What made you decide to become a musician and are any of your close family musically talented?
It was a natural progression. I played drums growing up and I went to music school in my late teens as a percussion major. I got very interested in pitched percussion mallet instruments: vibraphone, xylophone and marimba that first year of college. I loved taking on the melodic element that expanded my role as a drummer: getting to improvise, play the melody, learn harmony, etc.
After studying classical percussion for two years, then finally getting a chance to play vibes in a jazz combo, I could tell right away that this was my medium. My grandfather was a jazz saxophonist who was active in the swing and big band scene around los angeles in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, so I had heard jazz growing up. He always had some record on of Coleman Hawkins, or Lester Young. Even though I didn’t start playing and seriously listening to jazz until my late teens, I delved right in because the sound was familiar to me. It just made sense. My 3rd year of college a professor lent me a set of vibes to take home for the summer. I got together and jammed and played gigs around town with my peers and spent the whole summer practicing and playing. It was a really fun summer and kinda reinforced what I was thinking at the time which was that going to be my thing.
On a weekly basis, about how much time do you spend practising?
Varies greatly. At one point I spent 3-4 hours every day practicing. Recently I’ve been doing a lot more with the Malletkat and electronics, so some of my time is spent in that world: creating synthesizer sounds and trying out different patches that might work for a particular composition I’m working on. I also spend a lot of time composing. It’s probably equal parts practicing, composing, working on sounds, and booking gigs. I consider it all to be practicing in a way because without any of those things, I won’t be out playing new music and making albums.
Do you attend sessions, if so, what do you think makes a good session?
At this point I usually only go to sessions when I’m invited to be part of the band. I did for years show up and play at jam sessions. It’s tough with the vibraphone because you have so much instrument to move. I think a good session just involves people that have a good vibe, are there to have fun and listen, and not out to prove anything. The few sessions I have gone to in the last few years have been really good in that regard though.
Do you have a fixed preparation regime before going out on stage? How do you cope with nerves?
I try to make sure my preparation happens long before the gig. If I feel like I’ve practiced the music and had time to digest it, I usually feel ok getting onto stage.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
I just try to make sure that I can concentrate on the next thing that’s happening and not let one mistake create a bunch of other problems in the moments to follow. Having good communication with the other musicians on the bandstand is very important, via eye contact and cues. It’s also important that as a bandleader your charts are impeccably clear. A lot of mistakes happen due to poor charts or unclear instructions, so I try to be very strict with myself about having my music super clear on the page before I bring it to a rehearsal or gig.
What has been your most memorable gig?
Again, so so many…. I think the most memorable gig for me is still playing a private concert for my grandma’s 90th birthday party. The love in the room was just magical and playing for family is such a great feeling. I can’t even remember what we played, just the energy of the concert.
Which is the one place where you’ve always wanted to perform?
The Village Vanguard. That place always had had an iconic significance from the live sessions of Bill Evans and so many others.
If we were to walk into your studio, what equipment are we likely to find?
A set of vibes, piano. Malletkat, drumset, bass amp, PA system, and a whole bunch of finished or half -finished compositions littered around with espresso cups.
Which famous present day musicians do you admire the most and why?
I admire people that are great instrumentalists who are always trying new things and striving to take on new territory musically. Donny McCaslin , Danilo Perez, Brad Meldhau, and Lionel Loueke are a few that come to mind at the moment. All seasoned musicians who are constantly putting out new and different albums with interesting collaborators.
What’s it like being a professional musician, playing gigs, releasing CDs, etc.? Do you feel you’ve reached your goals?
I think the thing about music is that you’re always looking for the next thing. The next project, the bigger gig. I feel as though I’m come a ways, but there is always much more to aspire to artistically and career wise.
How do you balance your music with other obligations? – Besides music, what else are you into?
Aside from performing and composing, I also teach piano. I learn from it and it informs my music, so I don’t usually find it too difficult to balance. I’ve found that if I have about 15 weekly students, I still have plenty of time to do everything else. Times I had more I’ve found it a bit busy. I also love to cook and spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen. Of course, there will be busy times when I’m on the road or just busy in town and the cuisine has to be simplified a bit, but when I have time I love to dig in.
What advise would you give any aspiring musicians wanting to make a name for themselves?
I think just try to keep developing your sound and try not to do everything. Figure out what your voice is and unapologetically keep chipping away. You have to hone your voice and we live in a time of instant gratification and instant information. It take a lot of patience and there are more distractions that ever.
Who are your top all time favourite jazz musicians?
My favorite musicians/composers are (for all different reasons) :
J.S Bach, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Milt Jackson, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Lee Konitz.
Please tell us a little more about any singles or albums you are currently working on…
My new album, Gotham, is getting released in March which is a major step for me. That is a band with Donny McCaslin, Nate Wood, Matt Clohesy, and myself on vibes and midi sounds. I’ve been playing with that group for a couple years and I feel that we developed a very tight and defined group sound. I’m excited after several years to finally put it out there.
In addition, I have a new electric project with Ari Hoenig and Sam Minaie that I’m playing around town with this year. That band is sounding great and I’m looking forward to developing that. That project is me playing Malletkat through some various sounds: Nord electro and synths and samples, Sam on electric bass and electronics, and Ari on drums. The music is really high energy and groovin’. People seem to really love it. I hope to record that project before the year is up.
We would like to thank Tyler for taking the time to talk with us, we hope you have enjoyed learning a little more about this talented musician. Remember to check out Tyler’s website for further details on upcoming gigs, album releases etc.
Thank you Tyler and best of luck with your future endeavors.
The Festival Archive team
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