Not Boxed In: An Interview With Jason Crosby
Although Jason Crosby has been on the scene for many years and has played with some serious musical heavyweights, he is a relative unknown in the jamband world. As a keyboardist and violinist, he lends his incredible talent to a wide array of bands. Jason has the ability to effortlessly cross genres with his versatility. He can be found leading a Jason Crosby and Friends show in New York, touring with Oteil and the Peacemakers, playing in Project Z along with Jimmy Herring and Jeff Sipe, or touring with Susan Tedeschi, to name only a few of his projects. With his diversity, talent, and drive, Jason challenges other players in our scene like Warren Haynes and Stanton Moore for the title of hardest working musician.
While being raised on Long Island, Jason quickly began tackling violin and piano at the very young age of two. Music was his main love in high school and he toured with the band Solar Circus as soon as he graduated. He eventually found his way back to New York City to pursue a college education and do some musical freelancing. He started a band called Freudian Slip which toured nationally with the likes of Zero and Merl Saunders. After the band ended, Jason went on to play in New York City with many of his friends he had met along the way while touring. He played with God Street Wine, Derek Trucks, Oteil Burbridge, Jimmy Herring, Leo Nocentelli, Soulive, G. Love, and more – many of whom recorded tracks for Jason's first studio album titled "Out of the Box."
Crosby is known in the New York underground jam scene for his all star jams that have attracted high caliber musicians including jazz guitarist legend Stanley Jordan. Jason is a skilled player and his talents seem to attract other high quality musicians to play with him. Last summer he played with Shannon McNally while opening for John Cougar Mellencamp. Shannon's band also played on both the Tonight Show and the Late Show. He completed a winter tour with Susan Tedeschi in December to close out 2002. He has a full spring tour booked with Susan, as well, and three of those dates are opening slots for the Rolling Stones. Currently, he is touring with Oteil and the Peacemakers both in Colorado and on the east coast (for updated info visit www.jasoncrosby.com).
Add to this the recording and production of his second studio album due in March tentatively titled Four Chords and Seven Notes Ago, and you've got one busy musician. The new album is very ambitious and looks to include a DVD/CDROM in which one can watch session footage, see interviews, print out sheet music, get a music lesson, and more. I had a chance to sit down and talk to Jason when he came through Portland, OR with the Susan Tedeschi Band.
John Zinkand: What style of music is your favorite?
Jason Crosby: I don't know, it's hard to say. I really like playing with Kofi [Burbridge] and listening to the more complex jazz sound he brings. And Shannon's band is more of a pop thing. [Eric] Kras[no] is a really cool guy. I've sat in with Soulive a couple times. When my band plays in New York, Kras sits in. I haven't seen them since they've blown up huge and added Sam [Kinninger on sax] who I've played with before. But as far as a favorite style for me to play, it could be one thing or another.
JZ: Is it hard to musically change hats all the time? Like you are probably in blues scale mode right now with Susan…
JC: Well, you know with this new band that Susan's got, it has opened things up a lot more. Not to knock the old band, but they did a much more straight ahead blues thing, which is a very cool thing! But this band is taking that element of blues and adding all of our individual things. Susan's really psyched with the new band.
JZ: Who do you like playing with most?
JC: (laughs) Well, I mean I love playing my own music. But I get to do that with the Peacemakers. Shannon [McNally] and I just wrote some tunes. I'd like to tour with my own band at some point.
JZ: Who are your musical influences?
JC: The Burbridge brothers really changed my life. Then Jeff Sipe changed it again. Those guys are all so amazing. I met most of the Aquarium Rescue Unit back in the 90's. Kofi had just joined the Derek Trucks Band and Oteil was looking for a keyboard player for the Peacemakers. So Oteil's playing bass with me and the next thing I know we're going over to my parent's house and working on tunes. Changed my life. I met Jeff only about a year and a half ago, but we hit it off right away.
I remember playing some festivals back in the day with Solar Circus and we were fairly popular at the time. ARU was also at this particular festival. When we finished our set a bunch of our fans came backstage and said, "You guys should be headlining! I'm going back to the tents to party!" And I'm thinking, "Are you a fucking idiot?? Do you even realize that the ARU is about to come on stage right now? Do not go back. They're not gonna play Eyes of the World, but…"
JZ: What’s your favorite jamband?
JC: Derek Trucks Band. Are they a jamband? They are my favorite band. They're so talented. I've learned so much from playing gigs with them. When I'm listening to music I'm not listening to jambands, per say. I listen to a lot of jazz.
JZ: What has your practice schedule been like?
JC: I was never really much into practicing growing up. I loved to play, though. I learned a lot on stage performing. You get real confidence built up by playing in front of people. And to play live with an improvisational band is even better. You're not practicing playing the same thing, you're practicing how to play with other people.
JZ: Do you have any more all-star jams in the works?
JC: I'd like to do something in March when the record comes out.
JZ: How did you meet some of the folks that jam with you? How did you meet Stanley Jordan, for instance?
JC: Met him onstage at the Wetlands. I guess he had heard about the show. I guess he knew of or had heard of Oteil, and Stanley came over because he wanted to play with him. And I had a ton of guests scheduled already with Derek, Oteil, and everyone else. We were sound checking for the gig at the Wetland's and I guess Stanley called the venue. Someone said, "Yeah, Stanley Jordan called and said he'd be at the back door tonight at ten o'clock to play." And I was thinking, "Yeah right!" I thought they were making fun of me because I had so many guests! (laughs) So I thought it was a total joke. Then at ten o'clock we were playing our second song and he just showed up on stage. He was such a sweet guy, man. He was like checking out my new CD because it was a CD release party [for Out of the Box. He's like, "Hey man, these are some of my CD's." And he gave me "Stolen Moments," you know?
JZ: Do you find your big jam shows go off smoothly? How do you coordinate it all with such a big cast of revolving musicians?
JC: It's usually pretty smooth. I mean, the music we play for those gigs, we try to have the songs be more or less common knowledge. We don't practice together necessarily, but we play the songs on the road on our own time. Like my guys in New York will know Oteil tunes because I'll go out with the Jason Crosby Band and play tunes like Butter Biscuit or Listen Bart without Oteil. And then when Oteil's there we know his songs. The setlist turns out to be pretty familiar to everyone when the time comes to play together and the shows have always gone off well.
JZ: But you’ve been concentrating on more studio work recently?
JC: Yeah, I did my album and helped with Susan Tedeschi's new album. Through working with different producers I was asked to play on a record by Anastacia, a European artist. Susan's album was number one on the blues charts and the Anastacia album was number one in Europe at the same time. Pretty amazing. I was even called to record a short violin piece to accompany Celine Dion…just to get that call was pretty heavy. I also did some piano overdubs on the Lo Faber album Henry's House.
JZ: What will your new album, Four Chords and Seven Notes Ago, be like? How does it compare to your first album, Out of the Box?
JC: Well, it's much longer. There are twice as many songs as the first album, sixteen songs. It's got twenty-something musicians on it, so there's a lot of different feels, a lot of different line-ups.
JZ: Your first album was mostly instrumental music.
JC: There are more vocals on this album. There are jazz elements to some of the vocal songs, but maybe more towards R&B. Shannon sings a few songs and she's got a really soulful voice. We did a long freeform jam, like a twelve minute jam, and just kept recording. So there are a lot of different musical approaches. I'm proud of it. It took a lot of work, a lot of effort.
JZ: And who produced your new album?
JC: John Snyder did. He's produced jazz greats like Etta James and David Brubeck. He produced both Derek Trucks' and Oteil's last albums. He's a Grammy award winner. It was really great to work with him. He has this thing called Artist House which is a non-profit production company where he works with younger artists for no personal gain, so he has to keep finding more investor support, grants, etc. So my new album will be a joint release on both the Artist House and Blue Planet labels. Blue Planet is my own label based in New York. We will be distributing the album through Rykodisc.
JZ: Any interesting stories you’d like to share in regards to your new album?
JC: OK, I was touring with Susan's band and we were at a hotel room. Someone goes to the bathroom and they notice that the door is squeaking horribly when they open and close it. Really loud. But it had a full range of pitch as it squeaked from a low sound to a high pitched one. Jeff Sipe and I went in there to smoke a little because it was a non-smoking room, but when we closed the door we noticed the door had a melody. Distinct notes and everything which we thought was awesome, so we started playing with it and it sounded so good we decided to make a tape of it. The best part got caught on tape so we re-harmonized it and rearranged it for a full band. So then we went into the studio and recorded the sound of the door as a full band. It's the track on the new album called "Adoorable."